Benedict Cumberbatch stars in ‘The Child in Time,’ a haunting tale of a lost child

In “The Child in Time,” premiering Sunday, April 1, at 8 p.m., an everyday moment triggers a crisis in the lives of a happy, successful British couple. (Watch online now.)

Ian McEwan’s haunting tale of a lost child and redeemed love stars Benedict Cumberbatch (“Sherlock” “The Imitation Game”) and Kelly Macdonald (“Boardwalk Empire,” “Goodbye Christopher Robin”) as Stephen, a children’s book author, and Julie, a professional musician. They are the doting parents of Kate (Beatrice White), an impish four-year-old, their only child. Then one day Kate mysteriously disappears during a shopping outing with Stephen. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, and it upends Stephen and Julie’s lives in extraordinary ways.

Adapted from McEwan’s 1987 Whitbread Prize–winning novel, the program earned high praise during its recent UK broadcast. The Guardian found it “a deeply affecting portrait of loss and what that does to love,” and The Times lauded it as “a rarity: nuanced, unmawkish, unsentimental.”

“The Child in Time” also stars Stephen Campbell Moore (“The Last Post,” “Goodbye Christopher Robin”) as Charles, Stephen’s publisher and best friend, and Saskia Reeves (“Wolf Hall”) as Charles’ wife, Thelma. Charles gets Stephen appointed to a government commission on child care reform in hopes of taking his friend’s mind off Kate. But to Stephen, whose vivid memories of his daughter are ever present, the committee’s direction seems maddeningly out of touch with what children actually need.

Kate haunts every aspect of Stephen’s life — as a phantom at his side, a voice in his ear, a fleeting glimpse in a crowd of school children.

With the gentlest touch of the fantastical, this riveting story takes viewers in and out of the present, past and future, exploring the twin themes of the title — childhood and time — and leading to a conclusion that is as surprising as it is gratifying.

Reviewing the novel thirty years ago, Nicholas Spice of The London Review of Books wrote that “The Child in Time” “is about many things: about loss and its effect upon love, about the nature of childhood and how adulthood betrays it, about being a parent and being one’s parents’ child, about the mysteries and magic of time.”

“The Child in Time” represents the first TV production by Pinewood Television and Benedict Cumberbatch’s UK production company SunnyMarch TV. It is co-produced by “Masterpiece” for BBC One. “Masterpiece” is presented on PBS by WGBH Boston.

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