For anyone unaccustomed with Save Me, Sky Atlantic’s latest drama-thriller, it’s thus far one of 2018’s television highlights.
Written by and starring Lennie James (The Walking Dead’s Morgan Jones), the Nottingham-born talent seriously showcases his acting prowess as Nelly, a father desperately searching for his abducted teenage daughter.
The following series review is spoiler-free.
Save Me tackles the harrowing subject of human sex trafficking, child abduction, and paedophilia; issues that feel even more prevalent in 2018 due to the recent exposure and furthered public addressing of such heinous crimes.
Yet we quickly learn that this often disturbing, grittily working-class drama is shaped by its characters, specifically Nelly, within the seedy underbelly of crime buried in every day society.
Nelly, as is quickly established, is something of a happy-go-lucky sort of chap. Seemingly settled in his life and offering a helping hand to his ill girlfriend, he seems a popular face within the community. But his cheeky smile fades when police literally smash down his door and arrest him for abducting his 13-year-old estranged daughter, Jody.
As an audience, we are as confused and upset as Nelly, as he forgivably loses his temper when interrogating officers persist in accusing him of taking her. It’s only once things settle down (if you can call it that) when we accept Nelly is as baffled as he’s making out and sets out not only rescue his girl but uncover the unpleasant truths about what goes on in the disturbing world of child sex abuse.
Unlike other recent shows that’ve come and gone with little more than a whimper (see Britannia), Save Me is utterly gripping from its debut. You’ll have an urge to continue with the next instalment as soon as the credits roll because it’s deftly set up in each of its six one-hour episodes. Its pacing embroils you and demands both attention and intrigue, as we become just as concerned over Jody’s well-being as our terribly flawed protagonist.
And it’s these flaws that make the character so engaging. Despite being a somewhat unfaithful Jack the Lad type with a precarious temper and vagabond lifestyle; he possesses fundamentally relatable traits. He’s an every man and it’s largely down to James’ convincing, naturalistic acting that slots seamlessly into this organic-feeling, working-class area.
The support of its extrinsic characters adds to that southern-set authenticity. Yet intrinsically Suranne Jones, Stephen Graham, Alexander Arnold, Camilla Beeput, and Struan Rodger all come together to forge the raw setting that doesn’t gloss over things and makes up the volatile environment perfectly.
It also says a lot about the consistent quality of its writing and central lead when you’ve got screen legends like Stephen Graham offering one of his strongest roles in a while but is still outshone by James’ noteworthy performance. Similarly, a superb yet subtle contribution from Suranne Jones is fascinating by contrast to Nelly as his ex-partner and Jody’s mother. But the Doctor Foster star never overplays the distraught parent role; instead, her reserved nature works well and allows for moments of emotional explosion when things begin to heat up and the story becomes severe.
Save Me’s consistency is its sense of foreboding. We’re never convinced at any moment that something nice will befall anyone and more often than not our instincts are correct. Unlike a plethora of recent telly offerings this doesn’t attempt to sugarcoat any of it. After all, how could a plot surrounding rape and child abuse project anything than a sickening atmosphere?
An occasional respite is, however, a relief from the constant build of tension and horror. and unpleasantry. But if you’re hoping for a tidy and cliched happily ever after finale do not hold your breath. The manner and revelations of the climactic few episodes may leave many uncomfortable and demanding answers upon reflection.
All six episodes of Save Me are available on Sky Box Sets and airs on Sky Atlantic.