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Safe (1993)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Safe (1993)
DirectorAntonia Bird
Production CompanyBBC
ProducerDavid M. Thompson
Written ByAl Ashton
PhotographyFred Tammes
Music/SongsBilly Bragg

Aidan Gillen (Gypo); Kate Hardie (Kaz); Robert Carlyle (Nosty); George Costigan (Sean); Andrew Tiernan (Duggie)

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The harrowing and violent lives of two homeless youngsters, and other homeless characters that they encounter. Gypo is disturbed and dependent on his relationship with Kaz, and Kaz is living on the streets and in hostels after being persistently sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend.

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Safe (BBC, tx. 13/10/1993) was Antonia Bird's first feature film for television, and won prestigious awards, including a BAFTA award for Best Single Drama. It has been compared with recent socially and politically engaged films by Ken Loach and Mike Leigh.

But Safe is not a melodrama or a 'social problem' film; its style may best be described as critical realism. Its characters are presented ambiguously and their conflicts are not structured in terms of clear-cut oppositions between good and evil. Nor does the film place much faith in institutions.

Bird employs frequent close-ups of the characters, as if questioning, rather than defining, their reactions. The film offers numerous shots of their environment, providing clues to connections between character and urban life. The soundtrack uses traditional ('Jerusalem') and folk music ('Piccadilly Rambler') for both irony and emotional force, to express the distance between prevailing social values and the nomadic condition of the young people.

The filming of bodies is fundamental; gesture is more of an indicator of character than dialogue. Kaz's determined strut, her dances, and the toss of her head illustrate her defiance. Nosty's theatrical stance, pushing his body against others, and his painful self-mutilation dramatise what he calls his not being 'normal' Gypo's exhibitionism, his restless movement, pacing back and forth like an animal in a cage, his banging his head and kicking against objects convey his sense of entrapment. In despair, he tells his brother, "You don't want to be like me."

The film is orchestrated around the motif of 'safety.' The word 'safe' is uttered by Nosty, then by Kaz, and finally, scornfully, by Gypo. Yet the threatening world of the streets is hardly safe, populated by angry and frustrated young people, the clients they hustle, the police who keep a close watch on and attack them, and the shopkeepers who wash them off the pavement. Kaz, Gypo and Nosty are never 'safe.'

They are not sanitised or sentimentalised either, responding to their hopeless situation withrage and self-destructiveness. Pyromania, self-mutilation and headbanging walls are their responses to rejection by their families, bureaucratic indifference to their needs, and the general refusal, beyond charitable or disciplinary intervention, to acknowledge and deal with their existence. The desire for safety and normality is the enigma that the film vividly and painfully poses for the spectator.

Marcia Landy

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Video Clips
1. Clipping a punter (4:13)
2. In the shelter (4:00)
3. Is this normal? (2:54)
Bird, Antonia (1959-2013)
Carlyle, Robert (1961-)
Mackintosh, Steven (1967-)