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Review: Safe House Episode 1

Robert (Christopher Eccleston), a former police officer, is trying to piece his life back together with his wife Katy (Marsha Thomason) after a witness he was charged with protecting was murdered and he himself shot.

18 months after the incident the couple have moved to the Lake District to renovate a large farmhouse in hope of opening it up as a guest house. Although he seems recovered Robert’s obsessional exercise regime – the episode opens with him swimming across a lake – suggests a man desperately trying to fill a void. Katy is also concerned by his file of newspaper and internet clippings about the shooting.

At a surprise birthday party Robert’s former boss notes that their remote location coupled with his law enforcement background would make for a perfect safe house. Although Katy is initially wary the couple decide to take the offer. A security system is installed and Katy gains security clearance, seemingly overnight – which is fortuitous as a family is in need of their services.

Safe House episode 1

The young son of a prison warden is snatched from his mother and father during a visit to a fairground. Although he pursues and rescues his boy, the father is savagely beaten. The police deduce that the attack was not random and the family is being deliberately targeted. While the father recuperates in hospital, his family – minus a wayward student son who is suddenly failing to return calls – are packed off on an unexpected Lake District retreat.

Stylishly directed by Marc Evans, who also helmed the first episode of last year’s Welsh crime drama Hinterland, this opening episode of writer Michael Crompton’s four part series is so loaded with intrigue it threatens to become as opaque as the lake waters our hero swims in.

Every character seems to be hiding an agenda and a secret (or two). What is the prison warden hiding? His family thinks he is on sick leave, but the police find out he has been suspended. Who is the mysterious attacker (Peter Ferdinando) who flees and then camps out in the family home? Why is their son mooching around seaside arcades, sleeping in his car rather than attending university? What do the repeated flashbacks to the shooting of Robert and his glamorous female witness mean? Why are they making more eye contact through a car’s rear view mirror than is strictly professional?

None of these questions are answered at the close, and the sheer quantity of plot strands packed into one hour of drama threatens to tip Safe House into realms of implausibility. The procedural detail of operating a safe house is lacking and the speed in which Robert and Katy’s home is kitted out with surveillance equipment seems barely credible.

While it is always good to see Eccleston in a leading role, neither he nor any of his co-stars are given enough space to create compelling characters. There is just enough here to hook us into returning for a second helping next week, but Safe House would do well to slow down and develop its central storyline, or else it risks becoming unfocussed and confusing.

Director: Marc Evans

Writer: Michael Crompton

Cast: Christopher Eccleston, Nicola Stephenson, Paterson Joseph, Marsha Thomason, Jason Merrells, James Burrows, Harriet Cains, Peter Ferdinando

Review by Stuart Barr.

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