Like a leisurely drive down a windy road, “Amnesia” takes its time reaching its destination but delivers more than a few fascinating turns getting there. Chalk it up as another brainy crime drama from the BBC, in this case distinguished by its parallel plot threads, a top-notch cast led by John Hannah (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”), and the notion that even the two suspects don’t know for certain whether they’re guilty.
At the center is Mack Stone (Hannah), a police detective plagued by his wife’s mysterious disappearance, the details of which he cannot remember. Did she simply walk out on him, or was something more nefarious involved?
Plagued by that situation and faced with the growing skepticism of his partner (Brendan Coyle), Stone begins to obsess over a missing person named Paul West, who went AWOL after his own wife died in a fire. The detective becomes convinced West is in fact John Dean (Anthony Calf), a man who appeared five years earlier with complete amnesia.
Dean has established a life with new wife Jenna (Jemma Redgrave), but her annoyance with Stone’s persistence eventually gives way to a degree of suspicion. So while Stone tries to compile evidence against Dean, the detective’s colleagues begin to tighten the screws in their own investigation regarding the circumstances surrounding Stone’s wife’s departure.
In the best tradition of psychological thrillers, Hannah is appropriately tortured as the detective, whose harassment of Dean is only part of his increasingly erratic behavior. Yet Dean’s amnesia — which Stone believes is an act — could mean that even if he did murder his wife and stepchild, he might not know it.
Writer Chris Lang and director Nick Laughland manage to inch the story along at an assiduous pace, introducing enough twists along the way to keep the audience off balance. The one clear misstep involves a recurring “Blair Witch”-like dream sequence in which Stone imagines racing after his wife through the woods, a device that feels both overused and uninspired.
For the most part, though the filmmakers have crafted an intricate story unfolding in a fashion that continues to set British crime drama apart from its U.S. counterparts, where the emphasis is on scientific solutions in 44 minutes flat — the forensic equivalent of Jiffy Lube.
In other words, “Amnesia” is yet another BBC entry that won’t be quickly forgotten.