I watch all TV drama as a viewer and as a writer. I can’t help it. Having written scripts for TV – soap and sitcom, thus far – I can’t help but view what I consider to be superior homegrown drama with one eye on the skill of the writer and the mechanics of the writing. In the case of Five Days, which ran every night from Monday to Friday last week (and whose final episode didn’t come out on my Sky+ due to the series link refreshing each day and a clash being missed, so I had to finish the run on iPlayer on this tiny screen – grrrrrrrrrr), the writer I found myself admiring was Gwyneth Hughes. She also wrote the previous Five Days in 2007, about a missing mum, which was packed with top-flight British TV acting talent and was based around police procedural. As I remember it, the final outcome didn’t quite merit the five nights I’d invested in it, but it was clearly a quality piece of work.
This second helping – different setting, different characters, different cast, same reliance on policework – had a much more satisfying outcome. No need to go into plot, but it began with an apparent suicide off a railway bridge and an abandoned baby in a hospital toilet, developed into a full police search and drew much of its tension and intrigue from relations between the Muslim and non-Muslim communties in what must have been a Yorkshire town, as it was somewhere near Scarborough, which was named. Not being a Coronation Street viewer, I hadn’t really come across Suranne Jones before, but she was very strong in the central role of a police officer, keeping her end up in an incident room largely staffed by blokes, and having to deal with the inevitability of Alzheimer’s with her mum, Anne Reid (who seems to get all the old lady parts now). David Morrissey, who doesn’t do substandard drama, gave depth and heart to a detective with family problems of his own, and the likes of Hugo Speer, Bernard Hill, Ashley Walters, Shaun Dooley, Shivani Ghai and Steve Evets added further ballast. I must admit, I enjoyed the direction, too, from Toby Haynes and Peter Hoar: stylish and artistic but never to the detriment of the story being told. No idea what he’s done before, but the music, by Craig Pruess, was also outstanding. Although to be honest, I was concentrating hardest on the script, which had to deal with a wide range of characters, and did so with skill and good humour. Most threads were satisfactorily tied up, and I didn’t second guess the action.
This is what British TV drama can do, and I for one am relieved to know that it can still do it, backed by a broadcaster bold enough to strip it across five days. I’d pay my licence fee for stuff like this.
Meanwhile, over on ITV1, I’ve been irritated and underwhelmed by new comedy drama Married Single Other, whose decent cast (including the ubiquitous Dooley) are battling against clunky exposition and a patina of arch wit that seems to make every character sound like every other character ie. arch and witty. That said, I haven’t written a piece of drama that’s actually been on telly since EastEnders and that’s eight years ago now, so maybe I’m not in a position to nitpick.