By taking five key days over the course of a long police investigation, Five Days tells the story of a large group of people all connected by a girl who seemingly commits suicide by jumping in front of a train, and a baby found abandoned in a hospital toilet at the same time. It was aired over five consecutive evenings, used by the BBC for Criminal Justice and last summer’s phenomenal Torchwood: Children of Earth. This is a scheduling technique that the BBC clearly reserves some of its best drama for – does Five Days fall into that category?
Now, that description is pretty vague, but that’s because I feel it’s best to view Five Days knowing as little as possible about what will happen, as it includes a lot of twists and turns, some expected, some very much not expected. It’s tightly plotted, with little irrelevant information, and new characters are introduced over the course of the five episodes with consummate ease. Writer Gwyneth Hughes made great use of the scheduling format – a plot that uses a small detail from episode 1 in episode 4 works if there’s only a matter of days between the two episodes airing. The many characters never get confused as they’re distinct and generally feel real and fleshed out. The plot does, at times, feel a bit contrived, but then these things always do and it was by no means the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen.
What saved the at times contrived plot was the universally excellent acting. The supporting characters were believable. Of the younger cast members, I was particularly impressed by Matthew McNulty, Danny Preston and Shivani Ghai as his wife Nusrat, while Aaron Neil exuded real warmth and charisma as Nusrat’s father Ibra. I also loved seeing Hugo Speer and Derek Riddell, two actors who are always good value.
The main cast was equally impressive. I’ve always liked Anne Reid, especially since her performance as a blood sucking alien in Doctor Who, and she’s as marvellous as you’d expect here. Suranne Jones is utterly unrecognisable as Karen from Coronation Street as she proves that you can have a career after soap – as long as you’re, well, really talented. In other hands, Laurie Franklin could have seemed annoying and interfering, but Jones makes her believable, funny and kind. But the majority of my love is reserved for the magnificent David Morrissey. Since Sense and Sensibility and State of Play, Morrissey has quickly become one of my favourite actors, and this has only increased my love. My only complaint is that there really wasn’t enough of him (I spent the first episode waiting for his arrival) but his onscreen chemistry with Jones was worth the wait.
At times a touch contrived but always engaging and interesting, Five Days was an example of what British TV does best – well-written and superbly acted drama that actually has something to say, even if it’s not easy to watch. A real class act.