Masterpiece: ‘Elizabeth Is Missing’

Airs Sunday, Jan. 3 at 8 p.m. Returning to television for the first time in nearly three decades, two-time Academy Award–winner Glenda Jackson stars in this adaptation of Emma Healey’s acclaimed novel.

Jackson plays Maud Horsham, who lives alone despite early-stage Alzheimer’s. When her only friend goes missing, Maud desperately tries to solve the mystery.

The other mystery in Maud’s mind is a puzzle from her past, kindled when she unearths the top of an old cosmetics compact while gardening with Elizabeth. The discovery takes Maud back to her teenaged self. Like many younger siblings, Maud looked up to her big sister, Sukey, considering her the height of glamour. This childhood idyll ended with Sukey’s failure to come home one night in 1949, never to be seen again.

Increasingly disoriented, the two disappearances get mixed up in Maud’s mind — like the jigsaw puzzle that she flings to the floor. She attacks the problem with a system she uses around the house: sticky notes, posted everywhere: daily reminders to herself — mostly about locking the door or turning off the stove, but also recording her meetings with Elizabeth and chance observations. Maud’s granddaughter, Katy, helps her arrange the notes. “Imagine you’re like a detective looking at clues,” Katy says helpfully. “You have to start at the beginning, and you have to be logical.”

And she is logical — by her own standards. As memories, clues, and deductions pile up, viewers come to see the world as Maud does, and to solve the mystery as this tenacious, vision-haunted sleuth does.

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