★★★ SAVE ME, SKY ATLANTIC Lennie James looms a little too large in gloomy abduction thriller
Workrate of the Week award goes to Lennie James, who not only stars in this new six-part drama but wrote and executive-produced it as well. James (who starred in the first series of Line of Duty, and has hit it big in The Walking Dead) plays the central character Nelly Rowe, a wily chancer living on a Deptford council estate who suddenly finds his chequered past catching up with him.
We soon learn that a little of Nelly can go a long way, not least his slightly laboured geezer-slang – “things are gonna get a touch fuckin’ chronic”, “I dunno why you’re getting all secret squirrel about it” etc. He swaps lewd innuendos with Martine (or “Teens”), who’s one of several women Nelly maintains in regular rotation to be recipients of his questionable charms. Quite what they see in him is hard to fathom. He works at a lapdancing club three nights a week, and enjoys a few pints and plenty of crude jokes with his mates in the pub. The local cops have got Nelly’s number, though to be fair the same can be said for most of his pals.
However, Nelly’s jack-the-lad routine is upended when police in riot gear bust in on him and Teens (Kerry Godliman) and haul him away for the abduction of his own teenage daughter, Jody. This is on the strength of a video message she left, saying she was “off to see my dad”, but as the police – including Nadine Marshall’s fairly sympathetic DS O’Halloran, pictured right – quiz Nelly, it gradually becomes obvious that whatever else he has on his record, he wasn’t involved in her disappearance. In fact he hasn’t seen her for over a decade, since she was three, and has lost touch with her mother Claire (Suranne Jones).
It seems a little odd, therefore, that Nelly should suddenly develop intense paternal feelings for the missing girl, who (as he explains) he legally signed over for adoption to Claire and her new husband Barry McGory (Barry Ward). Abruptly, showing a focus and sense of purpose otherwise entirely lacking from his life, he’s off on a one-man crusade to find out who’s taken her. Whoever it is evidently knows a lot about Nelly, since he was able to fabricate a suspiciously plausible letter to Jody, uncannily full of small, believable details.
The mystery is set to grow steadily deeper and darker as Nelly’s bull-in-a-china-shop efforts at private detection progress, but even the basic setup is depressing enough. James has sketched an environment in which everyone is living a hand-to-mouth existence and struggling to keep their heads above water. The Deptford estate is a grim rabbit-warren of cramped, run-down flats, peopled with characters surviving on benefits with a side-order of petty crime. It’s also full of secrets, such as the paedophilic inclinations of Nelly’s friend Melon (Stephen Graham, pictured above), and violence is never far away, as when he suffers a vicious kicking from Teens’s son Markie, outraged by Nelly’s casual mistreatment of his mum. Left semi-conscious on the ground, Nelly is amazed to find himself being sympathetically patched up by Tam the local drag queen (Jason Flemyng).
Meanwhile, Claire is living her new life in a flash house with a swimming pool, but the fault-lines are ready to crack open. Her husband is cheating on her, and the police are very interested to know how he can suddenly lay his hands on 50 grand to offer as a reward for information about Jody’s whereabouts. If you’re able to withstand a whole lot of grey with a layer of grim on top, this might be one for you.
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- The complete series of Save Me is available on Now TV