Safe Home

New SBS drama on family violence charts difficult terrain whilst still keeping it an engrossing TV experience.

SBS frequently makes television shows, whether as documentary or drama, that often make for difficult viewing.
They don’t always result in the kind of ratings that result in strong ratings, but they are meant to provoke discussion and to shift the needle on matters of social issues.

Hot on the heels of the 4 part doco series Asking For It, is Safe Home, a 4 part drama tackling the subject of family violence. While it doesn’t especially sound like a fun night on the couch, it’s a topic that has frequently been dramatised via heroic characters in hit series such as Law & Order, The Good Fight and more.

Kindling Pictures’ way into the story is through the eyes of Phoebe (Aisha Dee), a communications expert who leaves her job at a successful law firm to work at a family violence legal centre in inner Melbourne.

The legal centre helps predominantly female victims of family violence and Phoebe’s job is to lift its public profile for manager Eve (Virginia Gay). But working alongside fatigued lawyer Jenny (Mabel Li), she quickly finds the centre under-resourced and stretched to capacity. The clients are also some of society’s most marginalised, whether working class, minorities, or homeless as a result of being victimised.

One scene in which Phoebe makes a rookie mistake inside a courthouse brilliantly demonstrates how perpetrators can appear friendly one minute, malicious the next. That’s the point here …. that they can look just like you and me.

The series straddles several timelines, which can be somewhat challenging to track, as relationships from her previous workplace unravel in flashback. These include former legal partner (David Roberts) and a colleague Julian (Thomas Cocquerel) with whom she has had a workplace affair.

Episode 1 also features a chilling subplot with a rural wife Diana (Janet Andrewartha), being ostracized and oppressed by her husband (Mark Mitchinson), pushing her to the point of escape. While it would be an easy option to portrat physical violence, writer Anna Barnes and director Stevie Cruz-Martin (The Tailings) cleverly let the subtext illustrate the monster within. Andrewartha, best known for her role as Lyn Scully in Neighbours, is simply outstanding here.

Episode 2 will introduce a different aspect of family violence as warehouse worker (Tegan Stimson) is escaping danger by sleeping at her workplace and, as is often the case, burying conflict by not sharing home truths to those around her.

Aisha Dee is excellent as Phoebe, underplaying her role and helping the audience to grasp the layered complexities of a difficult subject. Mabel Li is far more aloof and cool than her recent role in New Gold Mountain.

There’s also a loose thriller element to the series, and I’m reminded while Fatal Attraction may have us believe crazed women are readily stalking men, the statistics overwhelmingly tell a much different story.

Safe Home also embeds diversity into its characters, spanning a number of ethnic backgrounds, plus LGBTQIA+ and actors with a disability, seamlessly working alongside other cast.

It all makes for a very satisfying look at an important topic without ever feeling too suffocating -one of SBS’ 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.”

Safe Home double episode airs 8:30pm Thursday on SBS.

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