“Save Me – Series One” (2018)
Developed by: Lennie James
Directed by: Nick Murphy
Featuring: Lennie James,Suranne Jones, Stephen Graham, Jason Flemyng, Susan Lynch, Kerry Godliman, Nadine Marshall, Barry Ward, Jimmy Walker
“Save Me” (2018) revolves around Nelson “Nelly” Rowe, a down-and-out whose life is turned upside down when Jody, the estranged daughter he fathered thirteen years ago, mysteriously disappears. The main plot is about the journey he and others go through in attempting to find Jody and punish the perpetrators.
I am always staggered by the ability of the English to produce high quality television dramas of all types no matter what genre they might occupy, sci-fi, procedural, horror, thrillers or even comedies – yes, I said comedies, some of the best English comedies contain more dramatic tension than many other countries actual dramas. I recently sat down to watch the (mini?) series “Save Me” (2018) a television show based around one of the hot button topics that is troubling the UK at the moment, that is child abductions as well as the ongoing crimes related to human trafficking. These meta-issue are not overtly talked about but they will be at the forefront of people living in the UK while watching this. What I loved about this show is that, as you would expect, it is full of memorable characters as well as the now tried and true red herrings (thank you Scandi-noir), it sticks close to its narrative, not so much a whodunit but an exploration of a man who did not know how lost he was until he becomes a suspect in his own biological daughter’s possible abduction.
This new series features what has to be one of the best line ups of UK character actors around, as well as an actress that has to be the most popular in demand television actress around, Suranne Jones in the lead alongside Lennie James who created and wrote the entire series. The series also boasts Stephen Graham, who for me is the most valuable player, as a possible pedophile who after episode two really comes into his own and threatens to steal the entire series from the two leads – I have to say I find Graham endlessly fascinating as an actor who knows just how to play against not only his co-stars but the camera as well. Graham for me has to be the consummate character actor who is so good that he becomes the character he portrays – and he can do comedy as well – he seems to have enviable skills that only come along once in a lifetime. You can look for examples in the recent “Little Boy Blue” (2017), “Taboo” (2017) and “Decline and Fall” (2017) all in one year – it does not seem fair. The rest of the cast is rounded out by Jason Flemyng, Susan Lynch, Kerry Godliman, Nadine Marshall, Barry Wardand Jimmy Walker who all play very different roles that all maintain the narrative with very different motivations but all have the same end in sight.
The story of Save Me is as all great television shows should be, simple, a child is taken after which everyone is trying to recover her or find out what happened. The secret to this series is the way in which the story unfolds, as well as the narrative that is employed to help explore themes as well as characters, all the while unpacking the mystery that surrounds that narrative. The main theme is the exploration of one character, Nelly (Lennie James) who is in his mid-50s and is a lost man, he has no home and is basically a fun guy who everybody likes to be around but nobody really knows, he has had at least one child and signed his rights away to the mother, Claire (Suranne Jones) and her husband, Barry (Barry Ward). Nelly comes to the realization that he has little in life and possibly the best thing he ever did, he has ignored and now will lose it – he is a man in crisis that this event brings to the fore. Through the story we see a man driven with no “Taken” (2009) like skills to fall back on, just his own personal promise to bring his daughter home, by any means necessary, what we see is someone who pits himself and his friends in danger to find himself as well as his daughter. Nelly’s own journey is at once sad, exhilarating, full of promise but of course you know no matter what happens there is no redemption for this character.
“Save Me” is a show that provides an example of an issue that is haunting the UK at the moment and that is the endemic issue of kidnapped children which has reached record highs. A report from the charity ‘Missing People’ claims 140,000 children – that’s 383 a day – go missing across the country every year – although many return within 24 hours some are never seen again. Action Against Abduction claims that most of these cases are sexually motivated, yet many attempted abductions are still not reported to police. However, offences by strangers are still quite rare – with the NSPCC pointing out that more than 90% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone known to the child. This television show and many like it should be a call to change or to highlight the fact that children are the most vulnerable group that are exploited today, many of course by pedophiles not with murder but other heinous acts, of course in ‘Save Me’ the first thought is murder but when a body fails to materialize thoughts turn to more diabolical thoughts.
The show directed by Nick Murphy who has had a busy but unspectacular career so far, here excels in what is definitely the best series he has ever been involved with, this is the kind of series that comes along only rarely for a director to stamp themselves on and he has done with all of his talent. The use of not only the tenements but the surrounding area of Lewisham in London is striking as well as the color palette used throughout gives off a look of coolness that accentuates the emotional stability of the main characters. We see Nelly walking (and running) throughout much of the show either by himself or with one other character which again highlights his isolation from not only other people by his daughter as well. Another striking aspect is the use of flashbacks to an earlier time with Jody, which are never explained as being real or are they from an unreliable narrator? We also at times see older people dancing for no real obvious reason, they are seen by Nelly at different times, as is a tattooed man that always says ‘Hi’. These may seem random, and I am sure they are supposed to, but I wonder their narrative reason for appearing. This is the kind of drama that is highly stylised with many bright colors appearing throughout, take the early decision of Nelly to wear a bright yellow puffer jacket which stands out, not only the color but the size and shape as well – the yellow color even makes an appearance in the last episode but it is a chilling one. The color yellow can mean many things, it is a duplicitous color, as it can mean wisdom, knowledge, relaxation, joy, happiness, optimism, idealism, imagination, hope, sunshine, summer, dishonesty, cowardice, betrayal, jealousy, covetousness, deceit, illness and hazard – many of these relate to Nelly directly, as I said his is lost for most of the series. Of course, the rest of the characters have motivating factors as well but they are all definitely secondary to Nelly’s who is the prime move in this show, although whether that remains in the just announced second season remains to be seen.
Interestingly even the name Nelly has some meaning to the character as well as the show, the word/name ‘Nelly’ can mean stubborn and often pessimistic. More of a leader then follower. Often not one of the most popular around but does have a group of friends. Nelly’s often switch back and forth from the dark and light side. They will get evil if pushed to it, but will be an angel if treated right. And often act before thinking.These descriptions often fit the Nelly in “Save me”, which illustrates that nothing is what it seems or an accident. Which brings me back nicely to the older people dancing throughout the show, something that remains a mystery, which is nice to have.
If you have a chance to watch this series you should grab it with both hands as once you begin I believe you will see it through to the end, it is a great piece of television where everyone shines, the outcome is not guaranteed and it hints at a real dark underbelly where none should exist.
Episode One: Nelson “Nelly” Rowe, a self-styled womaniser, has his life is turned upside down when the police suddenly burst into his flat and arrest him on suspicion of kidnapping. Nelly discovers that his supposed victim is his estranged thirteen-year-old daughter Jody, whom he has not seen in ten years. After attempting to convince the police of his innocence, Nelly decides to take matters into his own hands and track Jody down himself. Later that night, Nelly is attacked after his girlfriend’s son discovers he has been cheating on her with a number of other women.
Episode Two: Tam helps Nelly get back on his feet. Barry makes a surprising reward offer at a press conference, leading Claire to suspect his motives. When Melon disappears after being arrested, Nelly suspects he may be involved in Jody’s disappearance and with the help of Goz, decides to track him down. Nelly also approaches Jody’s best friend, Dylan, whom he suspects may know more about what happened on the night she disappeared.
Episode Three: Nelly confronts Melon and questions him over Jody’s disappearance. Thorpe and O’Halloran reveal to Claire and Barry that the police received a distress call from Jody over two weeks ago, the day after she went missing. Claire helps out with a press drive organised by Stace.
Episode Four: After the police reveal a possible location from where the distress call was made, Nelly decides to go door-to-door in an attempt to find the house where Jody is being held, and finds an abandoned house which is partially boarded up. Later that night, he and Claire decide to investigate. They break into the house, only to find Jody’s bloodstained jumper. Meanwhile, Zita discloses a possible lead in the form of a local brothel, run by a paedophile kingpin. With Melon’s help, Nelly trawls the darkweb and finds a videoclip of another girl being abused in the room where Jody was being held.
Episode Five: Nelly begs Melon to help him get close to brothel owner Richard, in the hope that he will lead him to Jody. Melon learns that a young girl answering Jody’s description is to be sold through an auction at the brothel in just five days time. Nelly begs Claire to stump up £15,000 to allow him access to the auction. Meanwhile, Goz discovers a semi-naked picture of Jody in Gavin’s room, and just hours later, Gavin takes his own life. Nelly suspects Gavin of being involved in Jody’s disappearance, until Luke slips up and reveals a vital clue which points towards him being involved.
Episode Six: Nelly stages a lock-in and confronts Luke over his involvement in Jody’s disappearance. Claire manages to find £12,000 which Nelly takes along to the auction, but he soon realises that he is out of his depth. Claire resorts to drastic measures in an attempt to get Luke to talk.