“I’m going to show you stuff that I think is interesting. Things that I think you should think about,” says Idris Elba of his week of content on BBC3 and while Five by Five may only last a total of 25 minutes, it is a fascinating portrait of London that will have your mind ticking over for hours afterwards.
As part of the “Idris Takeover” – a week of programming created and curated by the actor, producer and DJ – Idris Elba brings us Five by Five, a drama series challenging preconceptions and subverting stereotypes.
Each five-minute instalment tells a story about identity from a different character’s perspective in a disarming and thoughtful way, and here’s why you should watch it…
1. It challenges stereotypes
Five by Five questions our prejudices – including some we might not even know we have. It rails against society’s preconceived view of gender, race, occupation and disability in a surprising and thought-provoking way.
It broaches taboo issues, such as a black policeman being accused of racism during stop-and-search, and points out that disabled women can be as criminally dubious as the next person.
Every five minutes lures you into a false sense of security where you think you really know the character, or can at least guess their next move, before the story chews you up and spits you out with an unexpected twist, where each character does something completely unexpected.
It’s a clever series which gets you thinking, and does what all good dramas do which is to make you feel uncomfortable as well as entertained.
2. It’s bite-size
Each five-minute episode manages to make a mark on the viewer in an incredibly succinct, sharp and lasting way. In a world where we’re binge-watching on the tube, on the bus, as we get ready in the morning – 300-second episodes are practical, at the very least.
Five by Five is bursting with “ones to watch”. First we meet Ash, played by Michael Ajao. His stillness is mesmerising in the role of a lost boy under immense peer pressure, and you might know him from the BBC series Cuffs.
Then there’s Georgina Campbell as Chloe. The 24-year-old actress beat Sarah Lancashire to a Bafta for Murdered by My Boyfriend, and is a familiar face of late having been in One of Us last year, as well as currently appearing in Broadchurch. She has a fragility on screen which is paradoxically powerful.
Ben Tavassoli as Lucas is a charming, cheeky chappy – a role he is well-versed in having done a similar thing recently and brilliantly in New Blood.
In the penultimate episode, Bafta-nominated Ruth Madeley is the feisty Janine. The actress has spina bifida and a spinal condition known as scoliosis, and her wheelchair-user character subverts stereotypes delightfully.
And finally there’s Michael, perhaps the most interesting character of all, portrayed with real sensibility by Sope Dirisu. You might have seen him in The Halcyon and Undercover.
4. It’s poetic
Each character’s story in Five by Five is set in motion by Ash’s decision in episode one. A chain reaction of interlinked events plays out, and they vary from the light and frivolous to the more weighted and complex.
Painting an acutely-observed portrait of contemporary London, the series serves as a brief snapshot into many different people’s lives on one day, and how they overlap. The narrative is satisfyingly circular too, as it all comes back to Ash in the end.
5. It’s made by Idris…
Five by Five emphasises Elba’s increasingly prolific career as a producer – not just an actor and DJ. His producing credits include the BBC series that made him famous, Luther, the movie Beasts of No Nation, and the forthcoming drama Guerrilla.
While Elba briefly appears in Five by Five, his key role in the series – and indeed in the whole Idris Takeover of BBC3 – is his curation and his production. And judging by this, he’s very, very good at it.