SBS frequently makes television programmes, both documentary and drama, which often make it difficult to watch.
They don’t always result in the kind of ratings that result in strong ratings, but they are meant to provoke discussion and move the needle on issues of social issues.
In the vein of the 4-part doco series Asking for it, AND safe house, a 4-part drama that deals with the subject of family violence. While it doesn’t particularly sound like a fun night on the couch, it’s a subject that’s often been dramatized through heroic characters in hit series like Law & Order, The Good Fight, and more.
Kindling Pictures’ entry into the story is through the eyes of Phoebe (Aisha Dee), a communications expert who quits her job at a successful law firm to work at a family violence law center in central Melbourne.
The law center predominantly helps female victims of family violence and Phoebe’s job is to raise her public profile for manager Eve (Virginia Gay). But working alongside overworked lawyer Jenny (Mabel Li), she quickly finds the center under-resourced and at the peak of her abilities. Clients are also some of the most marginalized in society, whether working class, minority or homeless due to victimisation.
A scene where Phoebe makes a rookie mistake inside a courtroom brilliantly demonstrates how the guilty can appear friendly one minute, malicious the next. That’s the point here…. that may look like you and me.
The series straddles several timelines, which can be somewhat difficult to track, as relationships from his former workplace are revealed in flashbacks. These include former law partner (David Roberts) and a colleague Julian (Thomas Cocquerel) with whom she had a workplace affair.
Episode 1 also features a chilling subplot with a farmer’s wife Diana (Janet Andrewartha), being ostracized and oppressed by her husband (Mark Mitchinson), pushing her to the point of vanishing. While it would be an easy option to portray physical violence, writer Anna Barnes and director Stevie Cruz-Martin (The queues) cleverly lets the subtext illustrate the monster within. Andrewartha, best known for her role as Lyn Scully in Neighborhoodit’s just outstanding here.
Episode 2 will introduce a different aspect of family violence as the warehouse worker (Tegan Stimson) is escaping danger by sleeping on the job and, as is often the case, burying the conflict by not sharing domestic truths with those around her.
Aisha Dee is excellent as Phoebe, understating her role and helping the audience grasp the layered complexities of a difficult subject. Mabel Li is much more aloof and cold than her recent role in New mountain of gold.
There is also a loose thriller element to the series, and it comes to mind while Fatal Attraction might lead us to believe that women gone mad are readily stalking men, the statistics overwhelmingly tell a very different story.
Safe house she also incorporates diversity into her characters, embracing a range of ethnic backgrounds, as well as LGBTQIA+ and actors with disabilities, working seamlessly alongside other cast.
All of which makes for a very satisfying look at an important subject without ever feeling too stuffy: one of SBS’s best local dramas in years.
Indeed, as we are reminded, “There are 2 types of people: those who think family violence will never happen to them and those who know it can happen to anyone.”
Double episode of Safe Home airs Thursdays at 8:30pm on SBS.