Friday, 6 May 2016

Safe (1993)

Safe is another one of those brilliant single dramas that the BBC used to make (it appeared in the BBC2 Screen Play series) that has remained with me ever since its initial transmission. And with good reason; Safe is an incendiary piece about the plight of homeless youth in London which deservedly bagged a plethora of awards including the BAFTA for Best Single Drama for its director Antonia Bird and writer Al Ashton - two talents who both died far too soon (Ashton in 2007 aged 49 and Bird in 2013 aged 62)

The story concerns Gypo (Aiden Gillan) and Kaz (Kate Hardie) who roams the streets, clipping punters (conning them into thinking Kaz is on the game, taking their money and arranging to meet them in the lobbies of cheap hotels before running off) and, if possible, spend the odd night in the local shelter run by George Costigan's Sean. 

Ashton presents his characters with great ambiguity. There's no answers to be had here, just heartache as the warts and all aspects of their lives and their frustration towards the hopelessness of their situation leads them to increasingly explosive conduct including self mutilation, criminal damage and arson. It could be argued that some of the characters are deeply unsympathetic or just plain hard to relate and emphathise with and Gypo is a prime example of this, being a damaged yet cocksure young man who has been granted a flat of his own but refuses to live there, preferring instead the streets and shelter - and therefore ultimately the company this provides him with. Principally this company means the defiant but troubled Kaz (superbly played by Kate Hardie, though not Ashton's choice; he originally wrote the part specifically for a mixed race performer) whom he has a complicated relationship with; he seems to love her and wants to be physically intimate with her but she appears frigid towards his advances and we later learn that she is like this because she was habitually raped by her mother's boyfriend and her mother, refusing to believe her daughter, kicked her out onto the streets. But there's also a great supporting cast of homeless characters played by the cream of young, naturalistic British talent including Andrew Tiernan, Marsha Thomason and, most spectacularly, Robert Carlyle as a self harming, bisexual Glaswegian hard nut. All of the characters seem preoccupied with the play's motif and the notion of safety; 'Safe' is a phrase routinely used to mean 'good', but its clear that the streets are not safe for these damaged individuals, just as its equally clear there's no real alternative for them either as they're left to blindly rail and rage against the impractical system until they literally become spent. 

A very emotional and deeply physical piece, Safe continued to prove that Ashton was a truly great contemporary voice (he had previously penned Alan Clarke's The Firm and the drugs drama Alive and Kicking) and, in giving Bird her debut after cutting her teeth on those early groundbreaking and polemical episodes of Casualty and EastEnders, ensured she hit the ground running. It also contains a brilliant and fitting score from the legend that is Billy Bragg.

This film remains unavailable on DVD and can only be watched on YouTube. I found it rather ridiculous that one of the UK's finest directors and one of its best writers didn't receive a season of their respective works following their deaths and equally, I find it strange that such award winning work has now become so little appreciated/little seen.

"Hug Mah Rod!"

- Nosty (Robert Carlyle)

To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic plays please sign the petition I started here


  1. I remember watching this when it was first shown and have spent years wondering what it was called.

    Look forward to watching it again


    1. Happy to help. Enjoy!

      Oh I should point out as a footnote to this review - which I actually wrote last year - that the BFI are currently staging a retrospective of Antonia Bird's work and that there will be a documentary regarding her life and work on the BBC shortly.

  2. Every time I see or hear about Kate Hardie I remember this stunning play and her amazing performance. I'll never forget Kaz's utter desolation at the end, as she walks away from camera hitting herself around the head. Deeply affecting.
    I'd forgotten what it was called and have struggled to locate any information about it as a result. Thank you for this.

    1. Absolutely! And to the sounds of Billy Bragg too. Brilliant and, as you so rightly say, deeply affecting.

      So glad to have helped, and it should still be on YouTube to view in full :) There's plenty of me waxing lyrical about Kate Hardie on here...