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Netflix Doccie on Madeleine McCann – Episode 1 Review and Analysis

The Guardian has given the new Netflix documentary a 1 star rating, a described it as a “blatant cash-in” and “a rehash”. I’m not sure that’s all it is though, especially since – by the end of the same article – the reporter’s sympathies are clearly with the McCanns. In fact the Netflix documentary isn’t simply a rehash, even if it does a lot of rehashing. Much of the rehashing purports a particular narrative. TCRS regards that narrative as bogus [the sex-trafficking spiel which indirectly resurrects the little girl into imputed sexual slavery]. But to dismiss the entire documentary as a greedy, thoughtless cash-grab is simplistic and false as well.

The documentary has a sly intent, which is to gradually manipulate audiences and plant the seed that somewhere out there, Madeleine is moving around and living out her life, and that there is always hope. This pitch starts from the very first frame, and the first false facts [broken shutters etc] follow in short shrift shortly thereafter.

A few general observations from Episode 1: BENEATH THE TRUTH

  1. Aerial drone footage provides some refreshing spatial context to the greater crime scene of Praia da Luz. One of the opening sounds, ironically – given the use of the raven motif in DOUBT – is the cawing of birds over the Ocean Club crime scene.Fullscreen capture 20190315 180600-001
  2. A random family with children is seemingly selected to “voyeur” through the sights and sounds of Praia da Luz to get a feel for what it was like to be there when the McCanns were holidaying in May 2007. The family featured in the documentary happened to be in Luz when the incident around Madeleine McCann occurred, as well.
  3. Despite Gerry and Kate not participating in the documentary, within the first few minutes we see familiar footage of their faces. The very first view of Gerry is very early on where he is doing his rounds as a respectable doctor in a hospital in Leicester.
  4. The sympathy narrative is also established early on, with a woman’s voice intoning about how the couple were desperate to have children, finally resorting to IVF. At this stage it’s not made explicit that actually Madeleine had two siblings at the time, and both were present in the same apartment bedroom when she was “abducted”. It should also be noted that post abduction, none of the younger children woke up, in spite of a chaotic cacophony playing out around them. The idea of the children being sedated is not new, although some stories about rows and sedatives have since been removed online, but will it be mentioned in other episodes of this “definitive” documentary? Fullscreen capture 20190316 141931
  5. A pair of journalists are also selected who know the story “inside out”. Initially they’re not identified.
  6. We’re told ahead of time that this case is a confusing jumble, and a lot of different faces are quickly implied as suspects – a Russian, a neighbor etc.
  7. Kate McCann’s voice provides voice over as the camera pans over Praia da Luz. She sounds like a normal mother who wanted to have a nice, fun holiday with her children. They can have fun [separately] and so can the adults [somewhere else]. Fullscreen capture 20190315 180552
  8. There’s a nice little clip of the kids heading up the stairs onto the plane – which is from old, grainy cell phone footage. When Madeleine stumbles a voice can be heard saying kindly, protectively, “Oopsie daisy”. Is it Gerry’s voice? Neither parents are anywhere in sight during this footage.Fullscreen capture 20190315 132541
  9. In another clip of Gerry on the bus by the same cameraman, it’s cut off in the documentary right at the point where Gerry moans on camera that’s he’s not on holiday. The cameraman actually points out on camera in the original footage that Gerry – sitting beside a row of kids – appears to be sulking and needs to “cheer up”. This nifty editing is the first clear indication that the documentary means to distort footage so as to present the McCanns in a misleadingly flattering light.
  10. An American woman’s voice continues to narrate the set-up at the Ocean Club, which the subtitle of the documentary identities as Robbyn. Robbyn Swan is the co-author – with Anthony Summers – of a neither-here-nor-there investigation into  Madeleine McCann’s disappearance. Anthony-Summers-and-Robbyn-Swan-1782878 (1)The description of the book Looking for Madeleine clearly matches the broader arc of the documentary, which is an investigation into the disappearance as some sort of sex-trafficking spiel. The same book [rated 2.8 out of 5 on and 2.7 on] also maligns the Portuguese investigation into the McCanns, just as the McCanns’ themselves have done.
  11. Next the babysitting facilities of the Ocean Club are criticized as being inadequate. The McCanns felt it didn’t suit them, as they had to put them down too early and pick them up too late. So of course the McCanns elected to take care of the babysitting and putting to bed themselves, which apparently involved each one – Kate and Gerry – doing an ongoing relay every half hour to check on them, along with the Tapas 7 as well. Not that that was any inconvenience. One can say with some certainty, had the McCanns made use of the babysitting services that every other family seemed to be using, Madeleine would not have been abducted, wandered off, killed, sedated – pick your scenario. Fullscreen capture 20190316 145218Fullscreen capture 20190316 145221Fullscreen capture 20190316 145224
  12. In my first analysis of the documentary I noted how AFTER Madeleine’s disappearance the McCanns were only too happy to use the Kids’ Club Creche facility. The photos of them taking them there first thing each morning to drop them off [after the disappearance] was after all how the paparazzi got their daily photo op with the couple.
  13. The authors then contextualise the various parts of the original crime scene. I like that they refer to the distance from the Tapas Bar to apart 5A as 60 yards “as the crow flies”. Fullscreen capture 20190316 145929
  14. The authors rationalize how the McCanns setup a relay team with the Tapas 7 where some of the parents would leave the restaurant midway through dinner and listen in on the various children in the various apartments. This is described as a “better” system than having all the kids together in a creche, looked after by one person, and thus allowing the couple to holiday the way most normal parents would. [Of course the doctors argue that their system is more normal and more sensible, which is why Madeleine was completely safe and nothing happened to her…].Fullscreen capture 20190316 150106Fullscreen capture 20190316 151506
  15. The backstory of the crime is glossed over, in the sense that the crucial days leading up to May 3rd aren’t covered, nor any of the incidents that took place in this week. Nothing is mentioned [at this point] about the controversial “last photo” either [taken on the first day of the holiday].  Instead the coverage deals with the afternoon of May 3rd and the kids being “particularly” tired that day. They were particularly tired so they would have slept particularly well that night, is the obvious but misleading inference. Fullscreen capture 20190316 152725Fullscreen capture 20190316 152803

That’s fifteen observations of roughly the first ten to fifteen minutes of episode one. That’s enough.

It should be clear that much of the first episode is broadly supportive of the McCanns, and even sympathetic to them. By green lighting their babysitting approach, the way is paved for some outsider, some shadowy interloper to spoil the perfect fairy tale of perfect parenting.

Of course, in a scenario where someone has to get up every 20 minutes, leave the restaurant and run around the apartments, we also have a scenario for one of the group disappearing for several minutes, with or without a child in their arms…and no one being any the wiser.

Tomorrow TCRS will be doing a similar analysis and review of episode two.


  1. Kathleen

    I watched several episodes yesterday and do not have your factual knowledge of the case of course but I immediately questioned several things. For one thing, why there? That place, Praia da Luz, is hardly lovely. From the description of the services of the hotel they stayed I gathered it’s beauty is that you could get rid of your kids much of the time. This in turn made me wonder what are the parents really doing every night from 8pm until 1am? Dinner and wine? That’s a crazy long dinner and a lot of wine. It was also curious that the commentary seemed to say it was more normal in the UK to leave sleeping children unattended at night while the adults go out. I’m an American, and I greatly doubt that. The Portuguese we’re said to be mortified by the arrangement and by that fact alone blamed the McCanns for their child’s fate. I can’t like this couple who could value social time with friends over the normal protective, but fun in a different way, time with their three children. Anyway, I will certainly keep watching and will buy some books to learn the objective facts.

    • LW

      Good point Kathleen, on why this of all places. It looks like a dump and you know they had money to go nice places. It doesn’t look appealing to me at all!

      • nickvdl

        I don’t think they did have money then. They were up to their ears in very expensive student loan debt X 2 for two doctors.

  2. Kathleen

    One more thought I can’t hold… is interesting that, as in the JonBenet Ramsey case, the parents immediately dragged a bunch of friends in and destroyed the crime scene.

    • nickvdl

      Absolutely, and then blamed the cops for botching the crime scene.

  3. Sylvester

    Two things struck me only having watched Episode 1 so far – one is the recreation of Kate having the bedroom door whoosh shut, ostensibly from the “broken” open window but it looks like in the Netflix piece that she wasn’t going to go on into the room to check on them anyway. That’s odd. She was only planning on standing at the partially opened door and assuming they were fine? Then there’s one of the Tapas 7 who decides to check on the kids in between Gerry and Kate. He doesn’t look in the door either. That’s some checking! I’m surprised he wasn’t thrown under the bus for possibly having something to do with it.

    So three things – Kate runs away (she’s an expert jogger) back to the Club leaving two kids alone after one has disappeared? That’s real safe.

  4. Jonny

    from the first ten minutes I could tell that this whole doc has been put together to present Kate and Gerry in a positive light and make them seem as innocent as possible.

    Its not objective in any way shape or form, although it makes an obvious attempt to appear so.

    I wouldnt be surprised if the Mccanns PR spin doctor is behind this doc, and the whole fact they aren’t taking part in the doc is a smokescreen to make it appear that they oppose the doc.

    • nickvdl

      I wouldn’t be surprised either, especially since their PR standbys McGuinness and Hughes feature so heavily in them.

  5. Kathleen

    At the risk of sounding mean……those spin doctors, PR pros? They look like puddings and are not persuasive personalities.

    • nickvdl

      They earn a living selling PR, so whether you think that’s professional or persuasive or not, it’s nevertheless how they make their money.

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