mon 22/07/2024

Safe Harbour, Series Finale, BBC Four review - too much message, not enough drama | reviews, news & interviews

Safe Harbour, Series Finale, BBC Four review - too much message, not enough drama

Safe Harbour, Series Finale, BBC Four review - too much message, not enough drama

Australian refugee saga reaches a soggy climax

Ship ahoy: Damien Pascoe (Joel Jackson) and Ryan Gallagher (Ewen Leslie)

Picture this. You’re sailing in the Timor Sea with family and friends on your luxurious yacht, hoiking the occasional plump fish out of the ocean to provide a ready meal washed down with Aussie plonk, when you suddenly chance across a decrepit, broken-down fishing boat crammed with mostly Iraqi refugees. What do you do?

There are too many of them to fit on your yacht, so you can either try to tow them to where they want to go (Australia) or, since you’re currently out of radio range of coastguards or police, leave them while you go in search of rescue. Other options might have been tow them back to where they came from (Indonesia) or change course and pretend you never saw them, but it was only the first two that our voyagers put to the vote. A secret ballot, in fact.

As this Australia-made four parter progressed, bits of narrative jigsaw fell together to allow us to decipher what choice was made and what its consequences were, though the precise details were kept tantalisingly hidden for as long as possible. Certainly from the way the yacht’s captain Ryan Gallagher (Ewen Leslie) acted, when five years later he chanced upon one of the refugees, Ismail (Hazem Shammas, pictured above), who’d become a cab driver in Brisbane, you could feel certain that his behaviour had been less than heroic. He looked like a man crushed by guilt, as he almost begged Ismail to bring his family round for a barbie, then was left speechless when Ismail’s wife Zahra (Nicole Chamoun, pictured below) harangued him about how he’d left them to die and was responsible for the death of her daughter.

It gradually emerged that the yacht’s crew had taken the refugees in tow, but the appearance of a large storm on the radar prompted them to turn back towards Indonesia. Then somehow the tow-rope had been cut and the fishing boat had foundered, resulting in seven deaths. The refugees blamed the Australian sailors, but the Australians insisted the refugees must have cut the line themselves.

From this ambiguous fog, assorted tales of dishonesty, tragedy and hope emerged. When Ismail couldn’t contain his simmering rage or endure his wife’s anguish any longer, he launched a lawsuit against Gallagher for the way he had abandoned him and his comrades, but the police couldn’t find enough evidence to pin the blame on anybody. However, under the strain of the past being dredged up and hauled into the light, we did learn about various unfaithful shenanigans involving Ryan’s sister Olivia (Phoebe Tonkin), her partner Damien (Joel Jackson) and Ryan’s wife Bree (Leeanna Walsman). Meanwhile Helen (Jacqueline McKenzie), keen to pursue her promising legal career, was careful to make sure the finger of blame pointed anywhere but towards her.

The contrast between the comfortable Aussies with their luxurious homes and first-world problems and the struggles of the asylum seekers was designed by showrunner Belinda Chayko and her screenwriters to prick the viewer’s conscience, the issue of immigration being as pressing in Australia as it is everywhere. The most affecting story was that of Ismail’s brother Bilal (Robert Rabiah), who’d suffered the hideous rape and murder of his wife in Iraq, and was left battling a cauldron of violent emotions which threatened to leave him hopeless and homeless.

Elsewhere, Safe Harbour felt disappointingly didactic and by-the-numbers. A climactic confrontation between Ryan and Ismail dissolved into rain-soaked melodrama, and the way the resolution lay with the respective Australian and Iraqi children, reaching out across the racial and generational divide, landed like a thick dollop of liberally-applied soap. Still, there was a dark little twist at the end, when we learned revealing details about the innermost thoughts of Ryan and his friends.

From this ambiguous fog, assorted tales of dishonesty, tragedy and hope emerged


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Wobbly camera work, poor direction, editing and sound. Acting by numbers and a poor rendition of the storyline. Had the characters done a normal thing and set off their distress signal there would have been no story. The skipper should have been hung drawn and quartered!

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