❉ An unlikely duo must decide what to do with a severed hand they find on a plot of land they intend to build on.
Stumbling upon a dead body is undeniably disconcerting, but it does at least present a fairly straightforward mystery. Find a mere portion of a body, on the other hand (if you’ll pardon the pun), and there are many more questions to answer. Is the person of whom the detached appendage previously formed an integral part alive or dead? If the latter, are the remains of their remains still in one piece, or was the severing of this one extremity merely part of a bloody dismemberment that has left other clues scattered about the landscape?
That second scenario can cause a public frenzy, as it did in 1851 in my home town of Norwich, when the discovery of a severed hand led large parts of the population to scour the city’s outskirts for weeks, turning up a grisly jigsaw of human offcuts. On that occasion, despite the considerable public interest, it was 18 years before the unfortunate human being who had been turned into an unseemly reverse meat raffle was officially identified.
For Ms Whitman and Trevor, the protagonists of The Missing Hand, a comedy short written and directed by Daniel Harding, enlightenment comes a little more quickly – or at least appears to. Ms Whitman (Meryl Griffiths) is a property developer, casting a gimlet eye over the site for her proposed luxury apartment block. Trevor (Neil James) is her general factotum, charged with beating the vendors down to Ms Whitman’s price; his reward, if he’s successful, being the contract for the building work.
Having given her orders, Ms Whitman is marching back to the car when she stumbles on an inconvenient obstacle, the nature of which I’m sure I don’t need to elucidate. Ever alert for potential threats to the success of her business, Ms Whitman immediately recognises that the discovery could throw both her timetable and her profit margin badly off track, and, despite his protestations, Trevor ultimately agrees to bury the evidence. No sooner has this impediment to future profitability been swept neatly under the carpet than another, rather more serious one appears, in the shape of the apparent owner of the missing appendage (Radley Mason).
If Ms Whitman’s eye for detail were as keen as her eye for profit, she might at this juncture notice a certain mismatch between the claimant and the hand. Trevor is too preoccupied with a mixture of guilt and a puppyish enthusiasm for keeping track of how much time remains before the hand is beyond hope of being surgically reattached to its owner. Suffice it to say that at the half-way point, the plot is only just getting going, and the moral loucheness of Ms Whitman’s approach to business isn’t the only ambiguity to feature in this darkly comic film.
The interplay between Ms Whitman and Trevor is deftly handled by the actors and director. Meryl Griffiths has to drive the action of the piece and does so in fine style, calling to mind Pippa Haywood (in fact the whole film reminds me in tone of Sean Grundy’s updating of some of Saki’s stories for Radio 4 a few years back, in which Haywood played a gender-swapped Clovis). Neil James makes her lackey unshakeably helpful and determined to do the right thing, but just too weak-willed to say no when he’s asked to do the opposite. The cast is completed by Joseph Emms, whose role can’t be described without some major spoilerage, and a disconcertingly convincing hand sculpted by Emma Snelson.
A fine orchestral score by Jack Blume sets the tone perfectly, and helps round off a thoroughly entertaining seven minutes. That sound you can hear? It’s one hand clapping.
❉ ‘The Missing Hand’ was successfully screened at numerous domestic and international film festivals in 2016, and was released online in January 2017: https://23halffilms.com/2016/02/23/themissinghand/