The five-hour British miniseriesFive Days — a co-production of HBO and the BBC that starts its stateside run Tuesday, October 2 — is only nominally a mystery about what happened to a young mother (Christine Tremarco) from the London suburbs who mysteriously disappears on her way to visit her grandfather (Edward Woodward). Because as we all know from the public’s unceasing appetite for round-the-clock coverage, when someone vanishes, other things materialize: family secrets, complex emotions and submerged pathologies. What’s unusually gripping about Five Days is that its tension isn’t derived from depicting the majority of its cast as shifty-eyed suspects, but rather as floundering, flawed human beings unsure of how to move on with their lives. That’s why it was cannily human of writer Gwyneth Hughes to make the five dramatized days nonconsecutive, so she could unburden herself of TV’s speedy conventionalities (those Without a Trace investigators, for example, do work fast) and concentrate on the long-term effects of a maddeningly tough, well-publicized case on everyone from family members to peripheral characters to the under-pressure police squad and a scoop-hungry media. That’s not to say there isn’t a resolution at the end that answers your most basic crime-solving questions, but it almost pales in relation to the other carefully threaded dramas: the husband (David Oyelowo) torn between marital regrets and anger over being a suspect; the preteen daughter (Lucinda Dryzek) from the victim’s first marriage who sees an opportunity to win an absent biological father’s love; the aging parents (Penelope Wilton and Patrick Malahide) who must suddenly address their own strained relationship; the head investigator (Hugh Bonneville) trying to maintain the integrity of the case without rushes to judgment; the family liaison officer (Nikki Amuka-Bird) who struggles between being sympathetic and a cop; and a young businesswoman (Sarah Smart) thrown by fate into the family’s situation who develops a curious emotional attachment to them. Studded with fine performances, Five Days may sound like a whodunit, but gets its strength from asking, What do you do about it?

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