96% #OutOf100: British Acting Legend Lennie James is Note-Perfect in Sky Atlantic’s “Save Me”

If you’ve been yearning for realistic reflection of self in a British TV drama, your wait is over.

Refreshingly, Sky Atlantic’s new six-parter Save Me, is one of the most authentic representations of present-day, first generation inner city Caribbean Brits you are ever likely to see – an age group usually written as powerless, two- dimensional non-entities. Even better: the star, Lennie James, is also the creator and senior writer of the series.

We spoke with the Black Excellence of the BAFTA-nominated writer (Storm Damage, 2000)/BAFTA winning actor (Lucky Break, 2001) that is Mr. James [1] after a preview screening, making the experience all the more satisfying, and profoundly so.

Nelson “Nelly” Rowe (James) is a DJ and sometime-bouncer in the fictional Palm Tree Pub in Deptford, owned by close childhood friend, Teens (Kerry Godliman). He drinks too much and is not averse to casual or recreational drug use. He womanises on occasion, but has a deep, genuine regard for the fragile, Stace (Susan Lynch), living with her and caring for her when she’s ill. It’s an easy routine, living hand-to-mouth at her place, like everybody else on a sterile-looking, grey brick council estate. He’s a local character with an obvious affection for the close-knit, inner-city community, which includes best friends – the quiet Melon (Stephen Graham) and low level drug dealing dad Gos (Thomas Coombes); sometime lover/Avon customer Zita (Camilla Beeput); and the queer, big-hearted Tam (Jason Flemyng).

We are right there with Nelly as DS Adeshola “Shola” O’Halloran (Nadine Marshall) and DCI Ian Thorpe (Alan McKenna) have him arrested on suspicion of kidnapping Jody (Indeyarna Donaldson Holness), a 13-year-old Surbiton schoolgirl. He is stunned as he learns that she is his long-estranged daughter with an ex-girlfriend from 10 years ago, Claire (Suranne Jones). Worse, she and her husband, dodgy businessman, Barry McGory (Barry Ward) are his accusers.

Helped by best friend and neighbour Dylan (Nicholas Croucher), Jody has been corresponding with her dad, Nelly, by email, and has set off to meet him and stay in Deptford for a few days because she loves him. CCTV confirms she arrives in Deptford and gets into a car.

Luckily for Nelly, DS O’Halloran realises that the online groomer is unlikely to be the man they have in custody, and he is released. Having flashbacks of his 3-year-old, Nelly’s parental remorse soon turns to outrage that someone who knows enough about him to impersonate him has kidnapped his daughter.

He embarks on an impossible odyssey to find her, discovering along the way, the dark secrets of people he thought he knew, the depth of community held by some and, perhaps most importantly in Mr. James own words, “… the worst thing that’s happened to this man’s child may well be one of the best things that’s happened to him, in the sense that it may well be the making of him.”

Save Me is Nelly’s journey of self-discovery, as he must reconcile his apparently wasted potential to, “…. become a better father to a child he may never meet.”

As hinted by the names already mentioned, this is a heavyweight cast who bring heart and authenticity to a British drama of the highest order. If you or your siblings are around the age of fifty, you will recognise so much in Nelly and his world, as he and hard-working, critically acclaimed director Nick Murphy (The Mist, 2017, The Secret, 2016, The Last Kingdom, 2015, Prey, 2014, Occupation, 2009, Primeval, 2008) absolutely nail the subtle cultural references and maintain a story about people rather than “types” of people, about lives rather than life in the inner city. The drama is deftly handled, as realistic insights are played with, developed and on occasion, turned on their head, Obvious plot devices are nowhere to be seen.

James leads a stand out cast in an exceptional performance, and you should keep an eye out for Adrian Edmondson as Gideon Charles, and for the multicultural cast, including Leni Zeiglmeier as younger Jody; Remmie Milner as Daisy; Daniel Adegboyega as Bertram; Shaquille Ali-Tebuah as Dominic; Alisha Bailey as Heather; Olive Gray as Grace; Ryan McKen as DC Leo Rainsford, Yasmin Sheikh as Sharmilla; and Deborah Rock as a neighbour.

Sky Head of Drama and producer, Ghanaian-Canadian Brit Anne Mensah, admitted in 2015 [2] that the deficit in ethnic minority representation both on- and off-screen required radical action, because the offspring of television insiders, regrettably, have a head start when industry breaks are on offer. She moved to Sky in 2011 from 10 years at the BBC as Head of Independent Drama and Head of Drama for BBC Scotland.

She has not flinched from her belief that, ‘You’ve got to be ambitious, think big’, and that people should be given creative freedom. She wanted to oversee at least 20% of the stars and writers of Sky’s UK-originated TV shows coming from a black, Asian or other minority ethnic background by the end of 2015, because, “It can’t just be about paying lip-service and box-ticking; we have to say, ‘We’re just going to do it’.

She has green lit such productions as Penny Dreadful (2014-16), Critical (2015), Fortitude (2015-), The Five  (2016) and Guerilla (2017), all of which feature BAME actors in central or central supporting roles.

Having someone like this bringing a show like Save Me together is felt from the ground up both in character and the present-day setting, enriched by a note-perfect, recognisable past, recreated by James. It will draw you in to invest in what happens next to his flawed, but determined character.

All six episodes of Save Me will be available from Wednesday 28 February on Sky Atlantic and Now TV.


[1] – http://thebritishblacklist.co.uk/british-acting-legend-lennie-james-discusses-his-writer-actor-roles-on-new-sky-atlantic-drama-save-me/

[2] – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/opinion/anne-mensah-why-skys-drama-supremo-worries-about-her-customers-not-her-viewers-9986531.html


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