Harlan Coben’s The Five finally gets that uniquely British genre mystery right

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s such a strange thing to see over and over.  Whether it’s Broadchurch, Marchlands, Lightfields, Thirteen, The Missing, or Requiem, the British television studios can’t stop making series based on the story of a missing child.  And it’s not just the Brits that can’t get over the genre.  Americans tend to do it with a supernatural bent, in shows like Twin Peaks, Stranger Things, or Riverdale.  But finally they may have got one right, compelling characters, a solid mystery with twists, turns, and surprises, and the missing factor of most series in the genre, a satisfying ending.  That’s Harlan Coben’s ten-part series now streaming on Netflix called The Five.

Smartly directed by Mark Tonderai, who has directed episodes of TV series including Doctor Who, Black Lightning, Gotham, Time After Time, and Twelve Monkeys, The Five takes the story of a five-year-old who disappeared on an outing with his older brother and his three friends, and turns it into something completely fresh and compelling.  Twenty years later in modern day England, the DNA of the missing boy is found at the crime scene of a murder of a local woman.  The news upends the lives of the missing boy’s brother, a lawyer and part time P.I. played by Tom Cullen (Orphan Black, Downton Abbey), his separated parents played by Geraldine James (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Alice in Wonderland) and Michael Maloney (Mr. Selfridge, Henry V), and his three friends: a cop who is the son of the detective on the original case played by O-T Fagbenle (Doctor Who, The Handmaid’s Tale), a doctor who has returned after years in the States played by Sarah Solemani (Bridget Jones’s Baby), and a protector of street kids at a local shelter, played by Lee Ingleby (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World).

Every player in this tale is a mess.  The cop can’t balance work and life and must care for a father with Alzheimer’s, the doctor is figuring her way through a failed marriage and early stages of addiction, the shelter manager cares a bit too much about protecting kids on the streets, and the brother of the missing boy runs the route where he lost his brother every day, unable to get past his loss.  As a police procedural, Fagbenle and detective Caine, played by Hannah Arterton (Doc Martin, Midsomer Murders), make for a solid policing duo, while Cullen and Ingleby are a great sleuthing team of private investigators.

Popular character actor Rade Serbedzija (X-Men: First Class, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, Shooter, The Fog, Batman Begins) is completely loathsome as the man convicted of murdering the boy (and admitting to it).  The Five has all those elements that made The Watcher in the Woods and Requiem so good, too, except the supernatural element.  Something creepy is obviously going on, but what kind of creepy and how creepy does it get?

Sequences are for the most part believable, not needing to rely on cheap shocks and surprises, and bloody murder crime scenes tend not to be overdone.  For all the other entries in this class, despite it not having the fun of supernatural twists, it really handles the mystery just right.

Viewers will find plenty of heroics, chases, and action, too–not just the bland, morose drama that seems to dominate this genre.  The Five is a good story, well acted, and well constructed.  Originally released in England in 2016, check it out now with all ten episodes available for streaming on Netflix.





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