Blink and you'll miss quality miniseries
By Robert Lloyd
Los Angeles Times
By Robert Lloyd
HOLLYWOOD — It's hard to believe it has been only a year since American television fielded two missing-persons dramas — NBC's "Kidnapped" and Fox's "Vanished," which themselves quickly disappeared without a trace. Now, coming fortuitously late to that party, we have "Five Days," an HBO miniseries produced "in association with the BBC," although the more accurate formulation is the one applied to its original U.K. showing last January — a BBC production made "in association with HBO." It runs only five weeks, and might be ranked as one of the fall season's best series.
Where its American cousins were pumped up with conspiracy and super cops, "Five Days," which airs tonight (each episode also airs at 5 p.m. Tuesdays) and is set in the London suburb of Hertfordshire, is more modest and down to earth. It looks at the way that private tragedies play out as public events and strangers lay claim to other people's pain to make sense of their own. It is subtle and serious but suspenseful and, in its measured way, romantic as well.
One can't say much about it without saying too much. A woman driving the younger two of her three children to see her grandfather in a nursing home stops to buy flowers on the side of a highway and, in the time it takes a truck to block the view, is gone; the children wander off toward home and soon are also missing. There is a husband who is sometimes a suspect; a mother and father whose own marriage is strained by their daughter's disappearance; a first husband, living in France; an angry stepdaughter; a woman who attaches herself to the family for reasons slow to be revealed. All are, one might say, not what they seem, or what they seem to themselves, and you are allowed to sympathize with them one moment and wish they'd shut up, or grow up, the next.
They are joined by a man who runs an animal shelter, a woman who runs a health club, a cub reporter on a bicycle, a big-city reporter in a car, a newspaper publisher in a bunny suit, your standard-issue Loner in a Van, and a welter of police officers of varying rank, duties, sexes, colors and opinions, about whom much is suggested in short order, so that their influence and apparent depth of character are greater than their screen time.
The large, excellent cast includes Penelope Wilton (a career ranging from "The Norman Conquests" to "Dr. Who"); Edward Woodward, who in another century was "The Equalizer"; and Patrick Malahide. Sparring senior detectives Hugh Bonneville and Janet McTeer (who won a Golden Globe for her work in "Tumbleweeds") are especially good together. David Oyelowo and Sarah Smart are among the younger faces recognizable to adepts of British television.
They cross or nearly cross paths with a coincidental frequency unheard of outside Charles Dickens novels or a "Lost" episode, but this emphasizes just how lost (in multiple senses of the word) one can become even within a narrow space.
The strength of the series lies not in the whodunit elements — it isn't hard to work out who's behind it — but in its eye for local details and small human gestures. Screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes insists on the mundane underpinnings even of extraordinary human affairs: "Motive's just for story books," says Bonneville's character. "I can barely work out my own motive for getting up in the morning." It's the old human mysteries that dominate here.