Every year, at a small pub in the Lake District, the World’s Biggest Liar competition takes place.
Fibbers from around the world travel to the Bridge Inn in Santon Bridge, where they are given five minutes to come up with the biggest and most believable fib possible. The winner gets a cheque for £25, a case of ale and a tin trophy.
Who will lift the cup this year? Although the contest is some way off, there are already enough contenders at the Tarrock Guest House to make it look like it’s hosting a bullshitters’ convention.
Safe House’s Blackwell family have previously shown some adeptness at spinning a yarn – Sam lied about being a budding Walter White, David lied about trying to bail him out, Louisa lied about nicking her mobile phone to talk to her boyfriend – and this week it’s the turn of Ali Blackwell (Nicola Stephenson) to demonstrate her capacity for invention.
Joe, the youngest (and incidentally most honest member) of the clan, turns out to be the son of Ali’s sister Gemma, who was murdered by amateur Jerry Garcia impersonator and professional nutter Michael Collersdale at the climax of last week’s episode.
Ali took over the role of mother when the death of Gemma’s partner saw her lapse back into heroin addiction. She successfully kept the secret from David when they met and married, and no one would have been any the wiser were it not for Robert (Christopher Eccleston) and his skills at detection.
‘I sometimes forget I’m not a copper anymore,’ he admits, cheerily tricking Joe into taking a DNA test that will establish the boy’s parentage.
Ultimately, it’s not required, as Ali confesses to her deception, but Robert’s own ruse – sanctioned by DCI Mark Maxwell (Paterson Joseph) – is difficult to swallow: not just ethically, but plausibly. Would a man of Robert’s integrity really deceive a child so glibly? Safe House has struggled with maintaining a consistent internal logic since the opening episode and disbelief can only be suspended for so long before it crashes down in an avalanche of unlikeliness.
The most persistent offender for is Maxwell, whose behaviour gets more far-fetched with every scene. The question of whether he’s a decent policeman or a corrupt bastard is clearly central to the story, yet the lengths to which the filmmakers have gone to protect the secret have rendered the character preposterous, swinging from one extreme to another with as little disregard for continuity as Maxwell himself has for police procedure.
He withheld CCTV footage of the night of Susan Reynolds’s murder from the trial of her husband Eddie because it showed Susan kissing Robert – but was this to protect his former protégé or for nefarious reasons of his own? His attitude towards Katy (Marsha Thomason) starts off curiously intimate – almost as if they’re having an affair – but then turns cold and pantomime villain ominous.
‘I’m going to be with you always – always,’ he tells her. Is he a hero, a villain or a victim of scriptwriting that can’t sustain suspense without sacrificing logic? Or is he simply getting into practice for this year’s World’s Greatest Liar by bullshitting every time he opens his mouth?
It’s inconsistencies like these that qualify any praise bestowed upon Safe House, but it’s nevertheless an engaging story with sparkling performances and an authentic sense of dread that hangs over it like a burial shroud.
If a credible way can be found out of the maze of duplicity it has constructed and a resolution found which matches the atmosphere, the cavils can be overlooked.
Aired at 9pm on Monday 4 May 2015 on ITV.
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