There is no murder, but a deep mystery is inherent in the must-see Aussie TV miniseries Safe Harbour, which premieres in the US tomorrow.
Safe Harbour opens with five Australian friends on a yachting holiday, sailing from Darwin to Indonesia, in 2013.
Fast forward five years to Brisbane, where a taxi driver picks up Ryan Gallagher (Ewen Leslie, Top of the Lake: China Girl, Janet King, Devil’s Dust), the captain of the yacht.
The driver is Ismail Al-Bayati (Hazem Shammas, Underbelly, East West 101, All Saints), one of the dozens of desperate asylum seekers that Ryan et. al. tried to help when they encountered the refugees floating aimlessly on a broken-down fishing boat in the Timor Sea during their holiday.
What the Aussies learn from Ismail five years later is that, although they were towing the fishing boat to safety, someone had cut the rope in the middle of the night and, as a result, seven people died when the fishing boat sank.
So, who cut the rope? And why?
The narrative continues with the dual timeline, in which flashbacks provide context and details leading up to the fateful act, while scenes set in the present day center on the lingering effects of the trauma on Ismail and his wife and brother and on the tensions that arise between Ryan, his wife and sister, and their friends.
The refugees blame the Aussies for the tragedy and struggle between their desire for justice, urge for revenge, and capacity and willingness to move on. The Aussies grapple between doing the right thing and protecting themselves while dealing with guilt, mistrust, and anger.
The situation begins to boil over for both groups after the Australian Federal Police begin investigating the five Australians for what might have been a prosecutable crime at sea. Secrets start coming to light, new suspicions bubble up to the surface, and none of these people’s lives will ever be the same.
Disquieting and thought-provoking, Safe Harbour begs so many questions — “What would you do” being chief among them. The rope-cutting incident isn’t the only one in which a person’s morality informs his or her choices, just as each viewer’s context provides personal justifications in deciding who was and is right and who was and is wrong in the story.
Whether the show’s creators and writers — Belinda Chayko (Secret City), Phil Enchelmaier (Wanted), and Simon Kennedy (Interface) — intended to make a political statement with the asylum seeker characters, I don’t know. For me, politics didn’t come up; rather, I saw them as representing the one extreme of people who had given up everything to escape persecution, versus the other extreme of the well-to-do who want for nothing.
Crystal clear to me was the issue of moral ambiguity and how seeing both sides of the story doesn’t make answering questions like “What would I do” any easier. Watching Safe Harbour nearly forces self-reflection, and in hindsight the show reminds me of Harvard University’s “Justice” course with Michael Sandel, whose tagline is “What’s the right thing to do?”
There is nothing neat and tidy about Safe Harbour, and this is just one reason why you should check it out.
The four-part miniseries costars Leeanna Walsman (Wentworth Prison) as Ryan’s wife Bree, Phoebe Tonkin (The Originals) as his sister Olivia, Joel Jackson (Deadline Gallipoli) as her boyfriend/ex-bf Damien, Nicole Chamoun (Romper Stomper) as Ismail’s wife Zahra, Robert Rabiah (Secret City) as his brother Bilal, and Jacqueline McKenzie (The Water Diviner) as the Gallaghers’ friend Helen.
Safe Harbour, a Hulu Original series, premieres in the US on Friday, August 24, exclusively on Hulu.
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