The controversy swirling around Netflix’s Madeleine McCann documentary in the end has proved more sensational than what has reached the screen. Delays and reports of wrangling behind the scenes raised the possibility of explosive new revelations as the streaming service applied the true crime formula pioneered by Making a Murderer to the mystery of the little girl who vanished from an Algarve holiday apartment in May 2007 as her parents enjoyed a meal with friends 100 yards away.
This is exploitative filmmaking on auto-pilot – a box-ticking re-hashing of the case garlanded with a few vague intimations of sinister figures who might (or might not) have had something to do with the disappearance. At eight hours, it is furthermore far too long, with aimless detours into the historical roots of tourism in the Algarve and the spread of paedophile rings throughout Europe.
Yet, in the next episode, the rug appears to be pulled away, though it would be a spoiler to reveal exactly how. Suffice it to say that beneath the glossy production values – endless languid shots of the Praia da Luz resort start to feel inappropriate given the subject matter – Smith has stooped to the tawdriest bait and switch. The only intention is keeping us glued.
More than 40 individuals were reportedly interviewed but, for the most part, it is the same parade of talking heads. Gamble pops up repeatedly, as do Looking For Madeleine authors Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan and former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie. Later we are introduced to Brian Kennedy, the double-glazing millionaire swooping in as the McCanns’s benefactor. The closest to a villain is Gonçalo Amara, the Portuguese police chief who wrote a self-justifying book pinning Madeleine’s fate on the McCanns.
A bigger issue is sheer over-familiarity. Among Netflix’s international subscriber base the basic facts of the case may be fresh and gripping. To anyone who has lived with the story since 2007, the déjà-vu soon becomes exhausting. Évidemment puisqu'il n'y a rien de nouveau en fait de faits et que les opinions sont ad nauseam les mêmes.
And yet, there’s nothing else – no compelling theories, no new witnesses or evidence. The final episode dissolves into a gossipy hit-parade of weirdos, reprobates and spectres allegedly sighted in the vicinity of the McCanns’s apartment in the hours around Madeleine’s disappearance. However, there’s no substance – or even intelligent conjecture: the presumption, never stated out loud, is that child traffickers were probably responsible for the abduction. The closest to a concrete conclusion is Gamble’s belief that the truth about Madeleine will come out in his lifetime. Viewers may wish they had followed the example of the McCanns and steered clear.
Netflix’s Disappearance of Madeleine McCann will be solving nothing
David James Smith - The Sunday Times - 17.03. 2019,
This new documentary about the McCanns does little except recycle cruel speculation about them.
We still do not know what happened to Madeleine McCann — and a controversial new Netflix documentary about the three-year-old’s disappearance in Portugal in 2007 seems unlikely to get us any closer to an answer.
The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann — all eight episodes of it — was released on Friday. I had hoped the series would provide a corrective to some of the nonsense still put about on Twitter and elsewhere about Madeleine’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann.
We see the beleaguered couple in news footage, looking increasingly drawn and haunted as they realise Portugal’s Policia Judiciaria are out to get them. But the series practises a deception by not making it explicit — so far as I can see — that Gerry and Kate McCann declined to participate. Their friends from the holiday, the so-called Tapas Seven, and Clarence Mitchell, their longstanding PR man, are also conspicuous by their absence.
It took me a while to get to the heart of the story myself, when I set off for the seaside resort of Praia da Luz for The Sunday Times Magazine in the weeks after Madeleine had gone missing. By the time I arrived, British journalists were camped out in a bar that served as an unofficial press room. I recall the reporter from the Express was always the last to leave, serving the daily demand of his news editor for a banner headline for the morning paper. In those conditions, it seemed to me that a kind of collective madness overtook the press.
A prominent role in the documentary is given to Goncalo Amaral, the one-time investigation head, who appears to have convinced himself the couple were guilty. He is still the hero of the social media McCann-[censored word], and the McCanns continue to pursue him through the Portuguese courts over claims repeated in his book The Truth of the Lie.
Protest sent on March 17
It was only right that the McCanns and their friends be considered as suspects. But we have never been presented with any evidence that any of them had anything to do with Madeleine’s disappearance.I used to try to imagine how two people, surrounded by friends, and soon after by the police and the world’s press, could have harmed their daughter, kept quiet about it, and somehow shielded everyone from that tragedy and its aftermath, presumably involving the callous disposal of their daughter’s body. Or perhaps the friends were all in on it too, and every one of them has carried that secret in a conspiracy for the past 12 years. Some people actually believe this outlandish theory. Or perhaps, as I came to believe, the terrible events unfolded just as the McCanns always said they had, with all the normal discrepancies and contradictions in time and memory that follow when several people experience the same traumatic event at once.
I have a notebook somewhere, which I lent to Gerry McCann one evening as he explained what happened that night and drew a plan of the apartment where they were staying. I have a memory, too, of returning to his home in Leicestershire, briefly, while waiting for a taxi, and being in the kitchen with him and Mitchell, where Kate McCann had left two plates of food for them, covered in clingfilm. On the fridge — more than six months after her disappearance — was Madeleine’s star chart for going to bed with good behaviour.
I have hated the way social media has facilitated the abuse of Gerry and Kate McCann, and found it hard to fathom the insensitivity of all those who have posted accusations about them.
The truth is out there. I know that Madeleine’s parents cling to the hope that she is alive somewhere, maybe too old now, aged 15, to remember much of her first three years. Sadly, it is more likely she is dead, her body buried or destroyed. Scotland Yard still has an open investigation.
The problem with Netflix’s documentary is that, when it comes to this case, there is currently nothing new to know or to say. There is only speculation.