The Impossible

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(2012) ★★★½

Channel 4: PREMIERE Sunday 26 April, 9pm

A Christmas family holiday in Thailand for Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor is rent assunder by the catastrophic Indian Ocean tsunami of Boxing Day 2004 that swept away thousands upon thousands across southeast Asia. Eleven-year old Tom Holland is with mum. The two younger boys are with dad. Each think the others are dead. We know that they survived. Otherwise they’d have called this merciless tearjerker The Unbearable. As it is, they go through so much pain and suffering in a horrible experience that Stephen King’s Pet Sematary proclamation comes to mind: sometimes dead is better. This ‘true story’ – it really happened to a Spanish family – is like some kind of inspirational horror movie. (Director J.A. Bayona’s first film was the elegant ghost story, The Orphanage.) The overwhelmed local hospitals resemble an overcrowded sick bay in Bridge On the River Kwai, with operating rooms decorated like Saw torture chambers. Injury detail is graphic. Yet in its quiet moments, the film is undeniably affecting. Thai villagers tenderly care for the stricken Watts. They have nothing and give her everything. One of the boys later asks Geraldine Chaplin how we can tell which night sky stars are dead and which are not. “We can’t,” says the kindly septuagenarian, “it’s impossible. It’s a beautiful mystery, isn’t it?” Below them, the devastated landscape looks like the end of the world. For thousands upon thousands, it was.

Certificate: 12
Duration: 109min