Five Days

I was gripped by this drama – but then it all started to go wrong.

Why was Five Days called Five Days? I guessed it was going to be like ITV1's hit Collision, each of its five episodes (1 to 5 March, 9pm) turning on a different but consecutive day during a police investigation. But no. Like the first series in 2007, the first two parts concerned the events of 48 hours or so: this time the leaving of a baby boy in a disabled loo and the apparent suicide of a man wearing a burqa (he threw himself in front of a TransPennine train and caused a terrible mess; Leeds just had to wait).

Yet part three began with the words "one week later"; part four covered "day 37", though not that much had happened since the previous night; and part five was "day 102". I can only conclude that the title was a reminder to viewers to tune in every weekday evening. A bit feeble, this. Get your audience hooked, and they won't need any reminder.

But this isn't the only reason I'm bewildered. I loved the first two episodes and boasted to anyone who would listen that I'd discovered the new State of Play. The plot was involving and every character connected to our crime - it became apparent that Burqa Boy might have been pushed - in ever more intriguing and silky ways, cobweb-style.

Also, it had a great cast. Among the cops were Suranne Jones, late of Coronation Street, as PC Laurie Franklin, and David Morrissey as her boss, DI Mal Craig. Morrissey is the greatest fun a girl can have in front of the telly on a weekday evening. He is such a dish, especially compared to most conflicted TV policemen (no one longs to be alone with a cold limoncello and, say, Ken Stott).

Franklin's mother was played by the wonderful Anne Reid, and her mother's fancy man by Bernard Hill. Kevin Doyle (The Lakes, At Home With the Braithwaites) was a twitchy forensic expert with a special interest in shoes ("That's a bunion to you, darling"). Doyle is always superbly weird, and frankly more could have been made of his character. Call me kinky, but I would have liked the DI to have caught him surreptitiously sniffing the victim's insoles.

Then it all started to go wrong. Questions, questions. Why was one lady copper left to prowl an estate full of feral children on her own? Coppers work in pairs. Why was a man asked to foster the abandoned baby by a social worker who was also the sister of his dead wife? There are rules about these things. This being West Yorkshire, there were lots of Muslim characters: nice ones, who drove taxis and didn't take it to heart when old ladies asked them where they were from, and naughty ones, who went to terrorist training camps in Afghanistan (though they regretted this afterwards - Five Days was nothing if not politically correct, and strove hard to suggest that these boys were not bad, but "lost").

Danny (Matthew McNulty), who worked on the TransPennine Express and had witnessed the burqa suicide/murder, was a convert who had married his childhood sweetheart, Nus (Shivani Ghai), one of the nice Muslims. They were trying to adopt a baby, preferably the disabled loo baby, whose picture they'd seen in the evening paper. I believed in their relationship about as much as I believe in fairies, elves and England's ability to win the World Cup.

When I wrote about Collision, a furious producer tried to ban me from seeing an ITV drama preview ever again, on the grounds that I'd given away the twist. I will try not to commit the same heinous crime here. If you have not yet seen the final episode, suffice to say that the various plot threads do somewhat fall away, leaving only a sad old prostitute and her favourite client for one to chew on.

I suppose Gwyneth Hughes, as the writer of Five Days, was trying to make some neat point about our present state of paranoia: apparently, when it comes to crime, we should worry about needy hookers, not young men with extravagant beards. But it didn't work for me. I was all dressed up, ready with my cushions, behind which I hoped to hide when the thrills really started, and then she went and left with me with no place to go but Huw Edwards, the ten o'clock news, and a feeling of having wasted five hours of precious viewing time.

Five Days is shown on BBC1.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 08 March 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Game on

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Bohemian rhapsody: Jeanette Winterson’s “cover version” of The Winter’s Tale

 Jeanette Winterson's The Gap of Time is full of metaphorical riches.

Shakespeare – that magpie plunderer of other people’s plots and characters – would undoubtedly have approved. The Hogarth Shakespeare project invites prominent contemporary writers to rework his plays in novelistic form and this is Jeanette Winterson’s reimagining of The Winter’s Tale. Like the original, it shuttles disturbingly between worlds, cultures and emotional registers. It has never been an easy play, for all its apparent focus on reconciliation, and Winterson handles the gear-changes with skill, moving between the offices of Sicilia, a London-based asset-stripping company, and New Bohemia, a New Orleans-like American urban landscape (with interludes in both a virtual and a real Paris).

Her Leontes is a hedge-fund speculator, Polixenes a visionary designer of screen games (the presence of this world echoes the unsettling semi-magic of Shakespeare’s plot). They have a brief and uncomfortable history as teenage lovers at school and Polixenes – Xeno – has also slept with MiMi (Hermione), the French-American singer who eventually marries Leo.

The story unfolds very much as in the play (though Winterson cannot quite reproduce the effect of Shakespeare’s best-known deadpan stage direction), with Leo using advanced surveillance technology to spy on Xeno and MiMi, and Perdita being spirited away across the Atlantic to the US, where her guardian, Tony, is mugged and killed and she is left in the “baby hatch” of a local hospital – to be found by Shep and his son and brought up in their affectionate, chaotic African-American household. Perdita falls in love with Zel, the estranged son of Xeno, discovers her parentage, returns to London and meets Leo; Leo’s PA, Pauline, has kept in contact across the years with MiMi, a recluse in Paris, and persuades her to return secretly to give a surprise performance at the Roundhouse, when Leo is in the audience, and – well, as in the play, the ending is both definitive and enormously unsettling. “So we leave them now, in the theatre, with the music. I was sitting at the back, waiting to see what would happen.”

That last touch, bringing the author into the narrative in the same apparently arbitrary way we find in a text such as Dostoevsky’s Demons – as a “real” but imperfect witness – gently underlines the personal importance of the play to this particular author. Winterson is explicit about the resonance of this drama for an adopted child and one of the finest passages in the book is a two-page meditation on losing and finding: a process she speculates began with the primordial moment of the moon’s separation from the earth, a lost partner, “pale, lonely, watchful, present, unsocial, inspired. Earth’s autistic twin.”

It is the deep foundation of all the stories of lost paradises and voyages away from home. As the moon controls the tides, balances the earth’s motion by its gravitational pull, so the sense of what is lost pervades every serious, every heart-involving moment of our lives. It is a beautifully worked conceit, a fertile metaphor. The story of a child lost and found is a way of sounding the depths of human imagination, as if all our longing and emotional pain were a consequence of some buried sense of being separated from a home that we can’t ever ­remember. If tragedy is the attempt to tell the story of loss without collapse, all story­telling has some dimension of the tragic, reaching for what is for ever separated by the “gap of time”.

Winterson’s text is full of metaphorical riches. She writes with acute visual sensibility (from the first pages, with their description of a hailstorm in a city street) and this is one of the book’s best things. There are also plenty of incidental felicities: Xeno is designing a game in which time can be arrested, put on hold, accelerated, and so on, and the narrative exhibits something of this shuttling and mixing – most effectively in the 130-page pause between the moment when Milo (Shakespeare’s Mamilius, Leo’s and MiMi’s son) slips away from his father at an airport and the fatal accident that follows. In the play, Mamilius’s death is a disturbing silence behind the rest of the drama, never alluded to, never healed or reconciled; here, Milo’s absence in this long “gap of time” sustains a pedal of unease that has rather the same effect and the revelation of his death, picking up the narrative exactly where it had broken off, is both unsurprising and shocking.

Recurrent motifs are handled with subtlety, especially the theme of “falling”; a song of MiMi’s alludes to Gérard de Nerval’s image of an angel falling into the gap between houses in Paris, not being able to fly away without destroying the street and withering into death. The convergence and crucial difference between falling and failing, falling in love and the “fall” of the human race – all these are woven together hauntingly, reflecting, perhaps, Shakespeare’s exploration in the play of Leontes’s terror of the physical, of the final fall into time and flesh that unreserved love represents.

A book of considerable beauty, then, if not without its problems. MiMi somehow lacks the full angry dignity of Hermione and Leo is a bit too much of a caricature of the heartless, hyper-masculine City trader. His psychoanalyst is a cartoon figure and Pauline’s Yiddish folksiness – although flagged in the text as consciously exaggerated – is a bit overdone.

How a contemporary version can fully handle the pitch of the uncanny in Shakespeare’s final scene, with the “reanimation” of Hermione, is anyone’s guess (the Bible is not wrong to associate the earliest story of the resurrection with terror as much as joy). Winterson does a valiant job and passes seamlessly into a moving and intensely suggestive ending but I was not quite convinced on first reading that her reanimation had done justice to the original.

However, weigh against this the real success of the New Bohemia scenes as a thoroughly convincing modern “pastoral” and the equally successful use of Xeno’s creation of virtual worlds in his games as a way of underlining Shakespeare’s strong hints in the play that art, with its aura of transgression, excess, forbidden magic, and so on, may be our only route to nature. Dream, surprise and new creation are what tell us what is actually there, if only we could see. Winterson’s fiction is a fine invitation into this deeply Shakespearean vision of imagination as the best kind of truth-telling.

Rowan Williams is a New Statesman contributing writer. His most recent book is “The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language” (Bloomsbury). The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson is published by Vintage (320pp, £16.99)

Rowan Williams is an Anglican prelate, theologian and poet, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012. He writes on books for the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide