Whilst wandering Netflix (UK!), as I’m sure you do, I was starting to panic. What to choose? But I couldn’t choose. But I had to choose. Ooh – naked ladies. No – don’t do it! Scroll some more…
When I happened upon Safe House (series 1). This should have been called “Safe” House My Arse. A four part ITV drama from 2015, it starred the grizzled Christopher Eccleston, the smartly not-grizzled Marsha Thomason, the madly contemplative Paterson Joseph and the still-has-my-heart Nicola Stephenson. All are beautiful and graded so thoroughly that Jack here had to check his eyes by looking outside where there was actual colour.
The story. It’s a tense one. Ex-copper Eccleston swims through Lake Flashback to his last case, where he got shot and a gangsta’s wife he was protecting got killed. Giving up fuzz-related activity, his wife agreed to move to the countryside with him. Up pops old boss Joseph with a nod and a wink that their gorgeous new residence would be a good safe house.
And, yes, this is a safe house like any other magnet for wretched family dramas, arse numbing tedium (Nicola Stephenson’s family go through both) and maniacs. It also works as a hideout for a runaway family looking to avoid a nut job and rubbish policing.
Ah…the family… Now, you may like your dramas to be believable. I can generally get by without. I can even put up with subtle signalling from the director (oh no! The boy has signed with his real name, let’s do a close-up. Oh no! The girl can get to those keys, those keys, really – let’s do another close-up – those keys…), but there are a few things in this drama which are just exhausting…
A bit of context for you: the family is out for the evening when an evilly bearded stranger (hereafter, Mr Evil-Beard) tries to grab their youngest son – and fails. Then Mr Evil-Beard beats the crap out of the Dad. The family is put in a “safe” house in the land of ponderous mid-shots (really, the producers could have got this down to four half hours with some snappy editing) and then improbable plotting begins…
- The police leave the family’s home largely empty, so Mr Evil-Beard can get in whenever he wants and hunt for clues. And feed the fish, so, you know, give him some slack.
- He can steal a mobile phone without it being traced – unlike another mobile phone later in the series. Oh yes.
- The family interacts with huffs, puffs and cliffhanger shouting – all the time. Not just a bit, but every moment they’re on screen. The Dad even apologises to everyone at dinner for the stress his shouting and cliff-hanger acting is causing. Jason Merrells pulls the scene off so impressively BAFTA must have considered giving him the ‘Tom Baker Award’ for getting through the dialogue.
- A yachting business owner takes two children out for a jolly, photographs them having a sea-doggy old time, then sticks the pictures on the internet. Innocently. Really, like he’s neither a pervert nor a roaring idiot with no grasp of reality, but a God of the Obvious Plot-Point.
- Mr Evil-Beard goes for a drive on narrow lanes at a mad, whack-job, no sanity, crazy-pill-gobblingly high speed – rather like he knows there’s an advert break coming. It doesn’t go well. There are adverts (okay, not on Netflix (UK!).
- Oh – and another thing – drive on the left, people. This is the UK.
Old Jack likes lists, so let’s do the cast. They are grand, by the way:
- Eccleston is pained but accessible. Age is lopping the intensity off him and holding him in a state of brooding and embarrassment that works splendidly. The age gap between him and his younger wife did make me a bit nervous, mind.
- Thomason is less well-served, but carries an air of trust me / don’t trust me with aplomb. She gifts the relationship a warmth and veracity that old Jack here didn’t want betrayed.
- Joseph is all about the secrets in his flat – shiny and big city against the douce shades of Lake Flashback. He’s big on weird stares and odd decisions. A boss, then.
- Stephenson and the rest of the family make the most of being in a wholly unbelievable set-up – and that’s before the the back-story comes lurching out of the Improbable Box at you. I wouldn’t want to spoil it, as this is a lot of fun, but, reallllllly?
- And then there’s Peter Ferdinando and the ever-glorious David Schofield. Yikes.
There’s guilt, tension, brooding (Mr E does some sterling brood, here) and a silly last half hour with mucho action and flashback resolving. You can sense the whiteboard and flashcards used to make it seem like the first draft was character-led.
If you too are caught in a daze by Netflix’s menu system, slap this on and enjoy… Have an orange first, though – it’s the last real colour you’ll see for three hours.
P.S. There’s a second series with an all-new cast. But not on Netflix (UK!).