There has been a lot of discussion lately about the current state of British drama. Many believe that the days of gripping television made by the Brits are behind us, while others are more optimistic, arguing that we’re simply experiencing a bit of a dry patch. Apart from Jack Thorne’s Kiri, there hasn’t been an awful lot in the way of compelling stories fronted by compelling protagonists this year, and we’ve been dying to sink or teeth into another unmissable drama about real people with real problems. Thankfully it looks like Sky Atlantic’s aptly titled Save Me has come along at exactly the right time to do just that: save us.
The six-part drama hits screen this week and, on the outside, it’s everything you’d expect from your average thriller, but in reality it’s so much more. Penned by Walking Dead actor Lennie James, Save Me charts the disappearance of teenage Jody, an event that puts her estranged father Nelly Rowe (Lennie James) in the frame. A wonderful script and a series of believable characters make Save Me one of the best dramas of the year — and one that could well put Sky’s original programming on the map.
While Save Me is very much situated in the crime genre, it makes an original contribution — something that’s getting much harder for writers to do in this day and age. The premise may be reminiscent of crime dramas that have come and gone in the past, but make no mistake this isn’t a police procedural. In fact, it’s James’ decision to tell the story from the perspectives of the people directly affected by Jody’s disappearance that makes Save Me feel fresh. These characters are compelling and, more importantly, they feel like real human beings. Our protagonist, Nelly, isn’t even the most likeable character in the show, but that’s okay. We don’t have to like him; we just have to believe in him. And believe in him, we do — which is down to both James’ writing and acting skills.
The fact that Nelly is a bit of a ladies man isn’t his only defining characteristic. He’s a funny guy, and a friendly sort, but there’s also a lot about him that we still don’t know. For example, his former flame Clare McGory (Suranne Jones), claims that Nelly isn’t all he appears to be, which insinuates there is more to him than meets the eye. James has truly crafted a wonderful, multi-layered protagonist in Nelly.
James didn’t go easy on himself that’s for sure. Despite having written the entire series, he still manages to deliver a wonderfully nuanced performance as ne’er-do-well Nelly. Nelly may be a chancer, but due to James portrayal, the character never comes off as shallow.
And it’s not just James that is brilliant in this. Suranne Jones is excellent in everything that she does, and Save Me is no exception. Playing a well-to-do mother with a not so well-to-do past might be a far cry from the likes of Doctor Foster’s Gemma and Scott & Bailey’s Rachel, but Jones is magnificent nonetheless.
The narrative itself is excellent and is extremely well-executed by James. I often find that the most compelling drama series tend to drip-feed information to the audience, giving us just enough to follow along, all the while maintaining a bit of mystery and intrigue to keep us watching, and that’s exactly what James does with Save Me. Whether it be the ambiguity surrounding what Clare’s husband (Barry Ward) is up to, or Nelly’s troubled past, James certainly leaves us wanting to know more.
There’s very little that Save Me doesn’t have. From conflicted and believable characters, to strong compelling scripts, the Sky Atlantic drama has surprisingly set the bar very high. Whether you binge it in one go or wait and watch it every Wednesday is up to you but, either way, just watch it, because you won’t be disappointed.
Watch Save Me Wednesdays at 9pm on Sky Atlantic, or watch the whole series on Sky On Demand or Now TV instantly.
Contributed by Stephen Patterson