Safe House episode 1 review

Misdirection is a hand played throughout Safe House, which is elevated by a fascinating cast and strong direction...

This review contains spoilers.

From ITV comes yet another Monday night drama to add to their roster of impressive output in recent times.

Safe House, from writer Michael Crompton (who recently penned ITV’s excellent Code of A Killer), sees Christopher Eccleston play ex-policeman Robert who has left the force behind him with his wife Katy, played by Marsha Thomason, for a quiet life in the beauty and tranquility, not to mention solitude, of the Lake District.

We quickly discover Robert left the police due to the the execution of a witness he was protecting, an event which continues to haunt him. He’s visited by his former colleague and friend DCI Mark Maxwell, Paterson Joseph, with a proposition for the couple.

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Keen to “rehabilitate” his friend Robert, Mark suggests that the couple’s idyllic hideaway would make a perfect “safe house” – a place where witnesses and those under threat could be free from harm under the protection of the former man of the law. It is not long at all before this proposition needs an answer.

In a parallel story, a family’s day out in Blackpool (something I didn’t realise people still did in 2015) is ruined when their son is temporarily kidnapped by a creepy chap named Michael, played by Peter Ferdinando. Thankfully, the boy’s father, Jason Merrells, finds him – though he also finds himself upon the receiving end of quite the violent beating from his son’s would-be kidnapper, ending up in hospital.

With the assailant on the loose, the family needed to be protected – enter Eccleston, Thomason and their safe house.

Though the kidnapping of the boy early on the episode may have had viewers thinking, “Hold on, not another drama about a child being kidnapped/killed???” (see Broadchurch, The Missing), Safe House avoids familiarity in this arena and takes a different route. As it does often, misdirection is a hand played throughout.

After the sumptuous opening shots of Eccleston swimming, which set the pace for the next 50 minutes or so (this is not a rushed affair, perfectly paced), the audience is “tricked” into thinking something sinister awaits him – only to find a surprise party awaiting. Minutes later the arrival of Paterson Joseph is played as a portent of doom, only to reveal a heartfelt reunion.

There is some familiarity, however, in the look of Safe House. Though directed exquisitely by award-winning Marc Evans (Hinterland, Collision), the “horrible things can happen in beautiful places” trope so prevalent in television (again Broadchurch, or Sky Atlantic’s Fortitude) is wheeled out here. But Evans does sterling work with the setting, so it’s hard to begrudge.

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It should be noted too that this episode does dip into needless and slightly annoying cliches. Every time, and we mean every time, sinister villain Ferdinando appears we’re treated to a less-than-subtle low, ominous piano bass note. It becomes a distraction and really does divert from what are already tense moments – there’s just no need for it and it comes across as painfully comical in some scenes. And the less said about the overused newspaper clippings kept in a box the better (not to mention their subsequent burning).

To take your mind off these slight niggles is the fascinating cast. Former Doctor Who Eccleston is incredibly warm, likeable and engaging as Robert. Though haunted, his performance does not let this dominate his role and comes over as a charming, fully-rounded character. Despite not being honest with his wife, initially, he is man looking for something else in his life – and one suspects that’s to be a father (as the football scene with the young boy of the family under his protection demonstrates). Any “grumpy” or “gritty” descriptions of Eccleston are amiss here.

Marsha Thomason (Lost, White Collar), playing his wife Katy, portrays with great sympathy. Her frustration at their predicament bubbles away under the sunny exterior. Likewise, Paterson Joseph (Babylon, Peep Show) as their friend Mark (and perhaps something more to Katy) puts in a solid and real performance. The bad guy of the piece, Peter Ferdinando (the “Half Face Man” in Peter Capaldi’s first Doctor Who story, Deep Breath), is just as skilled as those on his opposite side, evoking disdain with every piano-laden appearance.

Safe House could have been a very pedestrian, though good, drama but the skills of Eccleston, Thomason, Joseph and Ferdinando, coupled with Evans’ taut direction, lift this episode well above the average. And Crompton’s storytelling will ensure a return audience for the next episode.

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