SAFE HARBOUR delivers an uneventful yet entertaining thriller surrounding the consequences of decisions made during a rescue attempt at sea.
Directed by Glendyn Ivin and starring Ewen Leslie and Hazeem Shammas, the four part Australian thriller aired on BBC 4 over the past two weeks.
The story sees five friends: Ryan Gallagher (Leslie), Bree Gallagher (LeeannaWalsman), Damien Pascoe (Joel Jackson), Olivia Gallagher (Phoebe Tonkin) and Helen Korczac (Jaqueline McKensie) battle with their conscience after their sailing boat crosses paths with an overloaded boat of asylum seekers.
The series is predominantly set five years after the events at sea, which are gradually revealed through the use of flashbacks. It focuses on the fallout of the decisions which they made after they come back into contact with Ismail Al-Biyati (Shammas), one of the refugees and his family. What follows is an intense investigation into the truth as to what happened on the boat which turns up a host of buried secrets.
This isn’t the only pairing between the director, Ivin and Leslie - with the former having directed the latter in BBC’s recent adaptation of The Cry. It is evident that this pairing works with Leslie and Shammas delivering standout performances which form the emotional core of the series.
The show builds tension well in the first episode and throughout the series, keeping the audience on their toes - largely over the unpredictability of Shammas’ character, Ismail and the lengths he may be willing to go to. Shammas does an excellent job of portraying the character’s vulnerability and anger; something which if done poorly, could have resulted in Ismail seeming like more of a two dimensional baddie than a three dimensional, complex individual.
Safe Harbour’s weakness however lies in its story. It delivers an anticlimactic conclusion and tension which turns out to be decidedly low-stakes throughout the series. The potential danger posed by Ismail helps to build tension but little action actually occurs. Furthermore, the predominant driving force of the plot revolves around the mystery of ‘who cut the rope’, resulting in the refugees being stranded in open water. The answer to this however has almost no consequences and little obvious impact on the outcome of the story.
The plot repeatedly teases danger and conflict, only for these to be none and or the most part, at the story’s conclusion, the characters end up exactly where they started, albeit more rounded. This makes the show feel at times, less of a thriller and more like a character or soap drama.
Nonetheless, it does succeed in immersing the audience within the moral dilemma the characters face and consider the ambiguity of their situation. It’s exposing of the perils and hardships facing asylum seekers adds a strong political note which should resonate especially in Europe, given the recent refugee crisis. It does little to develop or expand on this further though.
Overall, whilst it is anticlimactic at parts - Safe Harbour does provide an entertaining, character-driven drama and leaves the audience with a relatable and difficult moral dilemma to consider. It is definitely worth keeping an eye on future projects Glendyn Ivin may have in store.
- Watched on BBC Four. 02/02/2019