All too rarely does television drama ﬁnd the power to shock viewers out of their complacency. Alan Morrison met the makers of Safe, which casts a painfully honest light on homelessness among young people.
This year, the Edinburgh lntemational Film Festival ﬁelded one of its strongest British line-ups. including new works by Leigh, Loach, Jarman, Hayman, Frears and Byme. But it was a 65-minute BBC Screenplay drama that blew the big boys off the screen. Safe tackles the problem of young people’s homelessness in London with admirable honesty. eschewing cliches and stereotypes, and instead drawing complicated portraits of real people. not all of whom are entirely sympathetic. The ﬁlm's bravery paid off: it won Antonia Bird the Chaplin New Directors Award and was singled out for a special commendation by the jury of the Powell Award for best British feature screening at the Festival.
Since the Govemment stripped sixteen and seventeen-year-olds of housing and social security beneﬁts in 1988, homelessness among Britain’s young people has rocketed. Safe concentrates on this group as they struggle to survive — physically, mentally and emotionally — in the 1990s. Three central characters stand out: Gypo (Aidan Gillen), whose council flat is ‘little more than an isolation cell to someone addicted to homeless society;
_ Over to John
Blue Peter editor lewis Bronze is in pensive need. ‘I suppose,’ he sighs, ‘that the current batch oi presenters is the worst In the show’s history.’ iIIs rationale ior such a dmning indictment oi his own selection policy is a resigned acceptance that nobody ever tools that the current trio is up to scratch when cowpared to those oi one's own era. Bronze rapidly adds that the present incubeuts — John lesile, lilane-loulse Jordan and Anthea Turner - are his personal iavolites.
Well he has to say that doesn’t he? The clutch oi ex-Blue Peter viewers and current hacks assembled ior Blue Peter’s 35th birthday bash saile In understanding synrpathy. For we, litre Bronze, know that the halcyon days will never be created again. lever again will we see Judd, slick and proiessional, periorw a lusclonsiy- relaxed link to Purves, all gluour and drip-dry Yves Saint-Laurent polyester sportsshirt, who, Inturn, withawink and a saint invites the caera to glide over to the king oi than all, the chap’s chm, the hero Indies.
Kaz (Kate Hardie), whose history of sexual abuse is at conﬂict with her skirmishes with prostitution; and Nofty (Robert Carlyle), a psychotic Scot whose bravado barely masks his inner fragility. Here is a group for whom bonding is an act of chaotic desperation; their tragedy is that, although they need each other to survive, the very reasons that made them homeless in the ﬁrst place
Aida! Billen all Kate Ml. In sale I constantly push them apart. Their emotional scars are etched too deeply to allow any meaningful level of mutual trust.
‘lt‘s totally understandable why someone like Gypo can‘t deal with the loneliness of living in that ﬂat,’ argues Antonia Bird. ‘He’s been in care for most of his life, he’s had no training for how to live in a room or go shopping or work a washing machine. As one of the
While John Leslie stands nncowiortably but suitany deierentially In the wings, John Ioakes not only has a queue oi journalists waiting In polite awe, but also cornwands doe-eyed devotion iro- Anthea Turner and recent gluinour girl Baron Beating.
liavlng been wan-handled into a sole photo-session by the bouncy blondes
(did Lesley Judd ever ieel it necessary
to be bouncy? we ask ourselves) loakes seeks solace behind one oi those pre-Ikea, post Meccano stack units. ‘l’nr so next year,’ he otters by way oi explanation, but adds with a reireshlng non-P0 sauciness sadly absent iro- today’s Blue Peter, ‘Stlll it’s nice to get to play with young girls agalu.’
Tire reason tor the reunion oi Purves and Ioakes, the reappearance oi
social workers says in the ﬁlm, you have to get street kids within the ﬁrst six—eight weeks. and if you don‘t. you‘ve lost them. I hope people will see believable characters that they can relate to. and say. “God, that could be my daughter". I want the audience to hurt at the end, I want people to metaphorically bleed with the pain that I feel about this issue. And i hope it might stir up more discussion about what should be done. because there should be more training and rehabilitation.‘
Gone are the days when a ﬁlm like Ken Loach's Cathy Come Home could shock merely by bringing social issues into the comfort of the nation‘s living- rooms, but Safe’s unsentimental portrayal of real problems. coupled with the emotional intensity that the young cast invests in the material. cannot fail to leave an audience devastated as the ﬁnal credits roll.
‘During research, l was terriﬁed by how complacent people had become,‘ says actress Kate Hardie, who has previously appeared in Mona Lisa and The Krays. ‘People have already found a blinkered way of living with so many kids on the streets, they‘ve decided that it's part of London, it‘s the same as the buses not arriving on time. The Strand is becoming a tourist attraction with all the sleeping bags: it's like, “Go and see Eros in Piccadilly Circus. then see the kids in The Strand.“ ’
A sense of Britain’s social and moral decline underlies all of Safe, from the helplessness of the social workers to the vicious verbal attacks the public throws at young people begging in the streets. As the ﬁlm opens, these distressing street scenes are set against the distinctive working-class tones of Billy Bragg singing ‘Jerusalem'. There are no green and pleasant lands in this England.
Safe is broadcast on BBC2 on Wednesday [3 October at 9pm.
Broorn (aiter years spent in rural Berbyshire) and the recollections (It not Lazarus-like revival) oi presenter uurnber one christopher Trace is the launch oi ‘ilere’s line i Made Earlier’, a documentary that crarns In as may moments as pouible iron the ilrst 35 years. Bronze explains that the prograrnrne will locus on personalities ‘dlscovered’ on Blue Peter which means we are sublected to a wince- induclng scene In which Slrnon Broom grooves on down to llgel Short’s pre- pubescent rock band, and to John Indies’s doom-laden Interview with a boy who eats nothing but baked beans. The presenters will take a back seat and none will be interviewed except ior one. Guess who?
In one scene, a certain Maurice, now a such dance teacher, looks at his appearance on the show as an elght-yearold. ‘It inspired we,’ he explains, ‘I regard it as ruy ilrst proiesslonal perimce.’ From the backoitheviewlngroo-athlck Yorkshire accent bonus out, ‘You weuhegotpald. . .iorthat?!’John leslie, BIane-leuise Jord- and Anthea Turner turn to see that ia-lllar twinkle in those roguisb eyes and know that Blue Peter will never be the sun again. (Philip Parr) llere's One I Made Earlier Is on B801 on Sunday 17 October.
The List 8—21 October 1993 65