Did we like it?
An engaging crime mystery in which, oddly, the crime is merely the blank canvas upon which to paint intricate portraits of a sprawling ensemble of characters, and is marred only by its desire to usurp Lost from the throne of TV show with the greatest number of implausible coincidences.
What was good about it?
• It would be possible to deduce it was a BBC/HBO co-production even without it being plastered over the beginning and end credits, largely because much of the budget has been spent on the cast. Everywhere you look there’s a familiar face: David Oyelowo as distraught husband and father Matt, Hugh Bonneville as haughty camera-shy Detective Superintendent Ian Barclay, Janet McTeer as a Jane Tennisonish cop, Sarah Smart as the mysterious Sarah Wheeler, Edward Woodward as the old folks’ home-bound Vic, Phil Davis as amoral hack Mic Danes plus Penelope Wilton, Patrick Malahide and Charlie Creed-Miles.
• Having such a talented and varied cast enables the script to meander safely over a wide surface area, and as a contingency against precious egos taking a battering the opening credits are done in alphabetical order with Edward Woodward even getting a soothing ‘and’ to help him with his last placing.
• Each of the main characters had their roles mapped out in seamless little vignettes that pointed which direction they would grow within the subsequent five days. But once Leanne’s abduction took place, the narrative concentrated far more on the impact on their lives more than the investigation itself, and this is where Five Days splintered from the more conventional drama – both in the script and the wide spread of the protagonists.
• And Leanne’s abduction, and probable murder, acts more as an incidental catalyst with which to focus on the unhappy lives of those trapped within its orbit. Despite his initial protestations, Matt can soon see how apart he and his wife have drifted over such issues as their kids’ discipline and her new pregnancy which they had agreed would be aborted.
• Matt’s step-daughter Tanya is forced closer to Matt by her mother’s disappearance and seeks solace in her absent father and her cosseting, over-indulgent grandfather who may be abusing her, or whose relationship at the very least mirrors her mother’s and Vic’s.
• Hassled police press officer Defne ‘Tops’ Topcu is thrilled by the case as it gives her the chance to prove her worth, However, she must fight running battles with her colleagues, especially Barclay, who gets himself reprimanded by a superior for his inept handling of the case, while he is constantly undermining any authority his junior officers might have.
• Even Danielle, the flirtatious health club receptionist considers only her own interests as her mind leaps in one bound from news of Leanne’s kidnap and possible murder to the fact that it will make Matt single.
• And finally, there are the two journalists. Josh, a frustrated cub reporter on a dire local newspaper (GOLDEN WEDDING COUPLE was the splash) is eager for his big break and after chancing on Rosie in Vic’s caravan he storms out into the caravan park wailing for other caravanners to call the police while he takes care of selfishly getting a photo of his heroics. At the other end of the scale is the cynical, vindictive Mic, who exploits the kidnap as a story to boost his Sunday paper’s circulation figures.
• The incompetence of the police in the investigation, which is cleverly employed as a device to explore the characters.
• The sumptuous cinematography creates an aura of idyllic harmony such as Ethan holding up his hand to block the glare of the sun and spying through his fingers at Sarah’s plane as it comes into land, as well as the bleached streets of high summer (we know it’s summer as Matt was looking for his “8.30 appointment” while outside it was still light).
What was bad about it?
• After a little while, it became apparent that you were going have to either switch off in exasperation or gather your sense of disbelief, crumple it up and toss it into the nearest bin as the number of coincidences threatened to exceed the extraordinary c**t of Lost; and here there isn’t even the safety net of sci-fi hokum to excuse it.
• Most of the vexing coincidences centre on little Rosie’s abductor Kyle. His mother is the nurse where Leanne’s grandfather Vic is resident; he also goes to the gym where Matt works; while Tops just happened to use the running machine next to him. And then he just happened to by driving past when Ethan and Rosie were wandering around some deserted suburban streets.
• Unless writer Gwyneth Hughes has something really special planned, the coincidences and contrivances will remain an unsatisfying element.
• While the sub-Sigur Ros/Cocteau Twins incidental choral music is quite serene, it does dispel rather than compound the atmospheric mundanity that has been built up to contrast with the stark horror of Leanne’s abduction.
• The frustration of Leanne’s kidnapping which the viewer is shown through the eyes of Ethan. But as a lorry pulls up at the flower stall, the scene cuts away to something else meaning we have no sense of how much time has passed when we return there.
• The flower seller, we’re willing to wager, is a red herring and only ran at the end of episode two because he is an illegal immigrant adding one more to the total of niggling conceits.
• After kidnapping Rosie, Kyle was very agitated and washed his clothes and scrubbed his white van clean. Peculiar, then, that he should leave his PC on the web page about the children’s disappearance (which provoked his mother to call the police) when, if he was being as meticulous, he would probably have wiped the PC’s hard drive.
• The way that Sarah (Sarah Smart) ingratiated herself to Matt happened rather too quickly, even when considering her maternal effect on Ethan.