Five Daysis an intense crime drama for BBC1 takes US shows such as Murder Oneas its inspiration.
Five Daysis an intense crime drama for BBC1 takes US shows such as Murder Oneas its inspiration.

Five Days
Producer:BBC Drama
Start:9pm, 23 January
Length:5 x 60 minutes
Commissioning editor:Jane Tranter

BBC1's new five-part thriller, Five Days, is not what it seems. The plot outline - a young mother vanishes when buying flowers in a lay-by - promises the normal crime series ingredients of eviscerated bodies, serial killing and painstaking police forensic work.

Fortunately, Five Daysis different. Of course it has to have a police investigation, but the series is more concerned with how a horrific crime becomes a national story, even an obsession, with the power to affect all who are touched by it.

The first four days of the drama take place during a hot English summer, followed in winter by the fifth and concluding day. The large cast of characters, interweaving stories and leaps in time will make demands of viewers, but that's a mark of the best TV drama.

The idea for Five Dayscame out of a discussion between executive producer and director Simon Curtis, producer Paul Rutman and some of Rutman's BBC drama colleagues. They were enthusing about US long-form crime shows, such as Steven Bochco's groundbreaking Murder One, which focused on a high-profile trial from the discovery of the crime through to the final verdict.

'There are very few examples of shows like Murder Onein the UK,' says Rutman. 'Tragic missing person cases would support that kind of story and we've seen a number of them over the past few years. That was our starting point. Further down the line, we had the idea of having each episode set within 24 hours.'

Although Five Daysis fiction, it has real-life parallels such as the abduction and murders of Sarah Payne in Sussex and Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham. 'I was struck by Soham, where this awful thing happened one summer's evening,' says Curtis, who directed the Patrick Hamilton adaptation 20,000 Streets Under the Skyfor BBC4. 'Obviously the families of the victims had their lives changed forever, but so did the families of the accused and the police. There was a ripple effect: Maxine Carr's mother was jailed for intimidating a witness; a policeman on the case was charged with having pictures of child pornography on his computer.'

Rutman and Curtis brought on board Gwyneth Hughes, whose writing credits include thrillers such as ITV1's Beneath the Skin, and harrowing family drama such as Mysterious Creatures, which aired on ITV1 in October.

Of Five Days, Hughes says: 'I wanted to write the kind of story which, if it happened in the real world, would grip the nation and to examine what being caught up in a massive public event is like for the family at the heart of it.'

The series has to work as both family drama and thriller, says Hughes. 'I wanted just enough police forensic stuff to keep the whodunnit element moving forward. But it is researched to within an inch of its life. I rarely see policemen or reporters on TV who are anything like anyone I know. I just want to tell it more like it is.' Hughes, a former journalist whose father was a policeman, should know.

Five Dayswas shot on 16mm film around Hertfordshire from August to October last year. With a shooting schedule of just 13 weeks, the crew had to film six or seven minutes a day. 'We used two cameras all the way through because it gave us so much more coverage,' says Rutman. 'There's no way we would have finished on time otherwise. Financially that could have been disastrous, so we had to cut our cloth elsewhere.' Each one-hour episode cost a little under £1m to make.

Two directors worked on the series: Otto Bathurst set the look and filmed the first three parts, before handing over to Curtis. For Bathurst, Five Daysoffered a change from the frivolity of Hustle.

'I had a strong visual idea for the look,' recalls Bathurst. 'I didn't want an urban, gritty look, because we weren't making a docu-drama. I wanted the piece to feel more filmic.'

Berlin-based director of photography Florian Hoffmeister had worked in the UK on the recent revival of Crackerand Antonia Bird's film about the 9/11 terrorists, The Hamburg Cell. They were experiences he was keen to repeat.

'Otto wanted a light look because of the story's heavy, dramatic content,' says Hoffmeister. 'He and the production designer put together a 'mood book' of photography, which was characterised by a lightness and extreme naturalism. So I tried to translate that into movie making.'

'We were shooting in the summer so we wanted to try to get a hot, bleached-out look,' says production designer John Stevenson, who worked on Pawel Palikovski's Bafta-winning film My Summer of Love. 'Every single colour choice we made was within a very specific palette. We went for pastels and tried, wherever possible, to avoid deep colours.'

'It would have been too obvious to use golden, warm colours,' adds Hoffmeister. 'That would have made it too romantic. Creating a perfect world in which a crime happens would have been too clichéd.'

The final part of Five Daysmoves the action forward into winter. 'We maintained the look right through to the end,' says Stevenson. 'The last day is bleak and windswept, which resonated well with the piece as a whole. We maintained our colour palette to unify all five parts.'

Five Daysis a gruelling, chilling watch - given its subject matter, it could hardly be otherwise. But it is restrained in the violence it portrays. 'The thing about gruesomeness is that it makes me go, 'yeughh for God's sake', and I turn away and feel alienated. It stops viewers engaging with the characters,' says Hughes. 'I'm bothered by the pornography of the violence you see on TV. I'm a great horror film fan but that's about going to the pictures, squealing and having fun. You sit and watch the telly at home. I don't want to go down a sadistic route. To ask people to commit to something for five weeks in their living room, the story has to go deeper rather than nastier.'

Production credits
Paul Rutman
Directors:Otto Bathurst, Simon Curtis
Writer: Gwyneth Hughes
Executive producers: Hilary Salmon, Simon Curtis, Kary Antholis
Production designer: John Stevenson
DoP: Florian Hoffmeister