TV review: Save Me, Sky Atlantic

★★★★☆

Gritty, grimy suburban thriller written, created and starring Lennie James

It starts, like so many thrillers, with a missing girl. But Save Me feels very different to the rest of the genre. It refuses to make crime glamourous and feels more like a documentary with its hovering handheld shots and intrusive low angles.

Set on a high rise estate in Deptford, Nelly (Lennie James) is the estranged father under suspicion after his daughter (Jody, played by Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness) goes missing, a child he hasn't seen for over a decade. Suranne Jones plays the distraught mother, Claire. With each episode the list of suspects grows, mainly drawn from Nelly's drinking buddies at rough and ready boozer the Palm Tree. By episode five Save Me has burrowed into some particularly dark and unpleasant corners.

James has given himself a lot of work, he not only wrote and created Save Me, but he's onscreen about 90% of the time. Nelly isn't an easy man to like: a drinker, a chancer, sleeping around, skirting the edge of the law, an angry man teetering on the edge of violence. Complex and contradictory, desperate for redemption, James makes Nelly feel incredibly real. And as the BBC's Doctor Foster proved, no one does simmering barely veiled pain like Jones.

James' writing is brutally honest, dealing with messy broken relationships and hard lives. Save Me is a slow burn mystery almost as interested in life at the bottom of the ladder as the abduction that drives the story forward. There are no heroes just human beings struggling to get by, portrayed by some of the UK's best character actors (including Jason Flemyng, Stephen Graham and Kerry Godliman).

Its nearest contemporary is Channel 5's much over-looked Suspects or recent true crime series The Moorside, shows that favoured gritty realism over slickly choreographed criminal capers. Save Me is incredibly strong, sometimes desperately sad, and an often moving piece of work from James.

Episodes watched: one—five of six

Save Me starts on Sky Atlantic, Wed 28 Feb, 9pm (also available live and on catch up via NOW TV).

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