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Review: Five Days (2007)

December 10th, 2009
Five Days covers five separate days (over an 80 day span) of the disappearance of Leanne Wellings.

Five Days covers five separate days (over an 80 day span) of the disappearance of Leanne Wellings.

Continuing with my recent theme of burning through BBC miniseries, I shuttled quickly through a joint venture production with HBO.  Five Days is a five part, five hour miniseries featuring an ensemble cast that addresses, first and foremost, how a fractured family deals with crisis.

The cast is quite stellar, headlined by British television actors with strong resumes, though not much exposure to the United States.  Leanne Wellings (Christine Tremarco) is the mother of three who goes missing off the side of a road while stopping to buy flowers and leaving her two youngest children in the car with their newly obtained dog, Gem.  Leanne is married to Matt Wellings (David Oyelowo), a former soldier and current personal trainer.  Together they have two children, Ethan (Lee Massey) and Rosie (Tyler Anthony), while Leanne had a prior daughter from another marriage, Tanya (Lucinda Dryzek).

Joining this mixed family is Leanne’s grandfather Victor (Edward Woodward), with whom she is quite close.  More uncertain is Leanne’s relationship with her parents Barbara (Penelope Wilton) and John (Patrick Malahide).  Barbara and Leanne struggle at times, while Barbara barely has a relationship with her father Victor.  John, on the other hand, has a strained relationship with Leanne’s husbands (both the initial one and Matt).

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The storyline focuses on the uncertainty and struggle endured by a family that, quite simply, does not know what happened to Leanne.  When Leanne disappears, leaving Ethan and Rosie on the lay-by, walking roadside.  Five Days effectively uses CC-TV images to grasp a level of realism with the initial situation.

Ethan and Rosie walk off, with Rosie eventually being taken by Kyle Betts (Rory Kinnear), a tangential character in the Wellings life as a client of Matt’s at the gym and the son of Victor’s primary health-care provider, Hazel (Margot Leicester).  The coincidence of it all, and the interconnectedness of the characters is something difficult to accept early in the course of the miniseries, but which comes to be acceptable over time.  The interconnectedness also confuses the setting.  Many elements of the series suggest an intermediate sized city; however, the plot suggests a very insular, incestuous community.  Seemingly everyone had cross paths each other, most notably at the gym which seemingly everyone goes to.

Among the emotions dealt with by husband Matt are concerns regarding infidelity, family troubles, and a distinct fear of being considered a suspect.

Among the emotions dealt with by husband Matt are concerns regarding infidelity, family troubles, and a distinct fear of being considered a suspect.

The plot continues to focus on the circumstances of Leanne’s disappearance and the abduction of Rosie.  While the focus is largely on the family, the camera often follows the perspective of the police force, led by DSI Iain Barclay (Hugh Bonneville), DS Amy Foster (Janet McTeer), Patrolwoman Simone Farnes (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and communications officer Define Topcu (Michelle Bonnard).  Unlike the prior BBC series I’ve followed, the media plays a lesser role in the story.

Among the overriding themes of the presentation are issues of race — Matt is black, while Leanne is blonde and blue-eyed.  Implications of racism are both subtle and overt in the storyline and the conscious of the characters, including the family and the police.  Also focused upon is the idea of chasing both the truth and the unobtainable good result.  Ultimately, lives are so fractured that no return to normalcy is really possible for the characters; however, there is a manic grasping for the straws of what once was.  Accompanying that is doubt as to whether or not the actions of each character could have done something to discover the truth or prevent the disappearance to begin with.

I think what attracts me to this miniseries above all else is its similarity in dealing with families in crisis to one of my favorite films, In the Bedroom
.  Here we see Malahide’s John and Wilton’s Barbara deal with the disappearance of their daughter much as Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek addressed tragedy in that film.  While Malahide and Wilton don’t quite achieve what both Wilkinson and Spacek did (in what I consider to be two of the finest acting performances I can recall, particularly Wilkinson’s), they achieve effectively the display of emotion that causes the audience to empathize.  Woodward’s Victor also reflects this, though his relationship is somewhat perpendicular to the struggle of the family at large.  He is really off on his own.

There are certain characters who simply are there to serve a purpose and do so without contributing more than their limited ability.  Notably, the children simply succeed in not being brutally annoying (as most child stars end up), while the entire journalistic cast is a nuisance (as is Define Topcu).  Amuka-Bird’s Farnes and Sarah Smart‘s Sarah Wheeler, on the other hand, both bring more to the table than their limited roles (as bookends to the grieving husband) should have allowed.  Really the miniseries wastes two characters who could have been delved into further, with little attention played to Farnes and Wheeler going off on a somewhat silly personal journey that adds little to the story while not fully developing the character’s motivations.

Barclay and Foster are a complex pair and really remind more of the Great White Hunter than anything else.  They talk, before cracking the case of Orion being bested by the scorpion he could not hunt and of forever chasing the Pleiades in the night sky.  That the miniseries does eventually reach some form of a conclusion is almost a betrayal of the first four and a half hours in which the police are Orion.

The miniseries’ biggest weaknesses are its setting up of too many complex coincidences, the misuse of Tanya (who as a stepdaughter is really a character that never finds herself… much more could have been done there) and the confusion brought by casting two characters (Barbara Poole and Hazel Betts) who are two similar, both in what their characters experience emotionally and in appearance.

Overall, the series moves quickly, is well written and effectively develops characters (both central and minor) without losing much focus.  For that, it receives a solid 8 of 10.  If you enjoy productions such as In the Bedroom or In the Valley of Elah, you’re bound to be fascinated by this and I highly recommend renting.  This is probably not quite an own, but if you like this genre, I highly recommend picking up In the Bedroom.

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