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The centrepiece of BBC Three’s recent takeover by Idris Elba is undoubtedly the original drama anthology 5×5, which Elba produced for the strand. Scripted by new writers and starring a cast of up-and-coming actors, the series of short films each tell the story of a different character, who are interconnected by geography and circumstance. Lasting a grand total of 25 minutes, the collection manages to paint a detailed story of a city and its inhabitants.
Starting and finishing with shots of Idris himself, who here acts as something of a bookend, the first short tells the story of a young man, Ash (Michael Ajao), pressured into knife crime.
The second follows his would-be victim Chloe (Georgina Campbell, who won a Bafta for her role in Murdered by My Boyfriend and who can currently seen in Broadchurch), as she flees from him, only to injure someone she may or may not know in an underpass.
The third takes a romantic detour as Lucas (Ben Tavassoli), the man assailed by Chloe in the previous episode, takes shelter in a nearby cafe, while in the fourth, Janine (Ruth Madeley), a wheelchair user, tries to score some drugs.
The police who accost her are followed in the final episode, where officer Michael (Sope Dirisu) is accused of being a racist by his partner. It’s here that the story arc, satisfyingly, comes full circle.
Each film is a little vignette of city life, where all sorts of people rub up against each other, for good or for ill, and each is a snapshot of a community rich in diversity. Yet they are by no means the kind of worthy, issue-led dramas this kind of programming can sometimes produce. To say these films are short is a bit of an understatement – some of them wrap up in under four minutes – and as such, the characterisation they pack into their running time is pretty miraculous.
The caliber of the new talent on display is evident, as the cast fully inhabit their characters, while the writing gives them much to do within their framework – a framework that gets more involving with each instalment. The stories, independently and as a whole, manage to combine humour and pathos, light and dark, humanity in its many guises, and it’s all done with wit, economy and grace.
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