Time Television critique: Gruelling portrait of prison lifetime is crucial viewing

<p>Graham plays prison officer Eric McNally</p>


hen Mark Cobden enters prison in the initially moments of Jimmy McGovern’s new drama, he quickly learns that the question “What are you performing?” has a different meaning. His fellow inmates aren’t inquiring him what he’s up to (it’s not like there’s substantially to do, anyway). They want to uncover out the duration of his sentence, how a great deal time he’s carrying out – and in exploring that, to get the evaluate of what kind of man he is, whether or not he is a risk, an ally, or a person to thrust all over.

A former teacher eaten by guilt about his crime, Mark (a melancholy Sean Bean) falls into that latter group (“Do one particular, granddad,” one prisoner hisses back again when Mark attempts to remonstrate with him like he’s negotiating with a Year Nine who has not completed their homework). It appears he couldn’t be even worse equipped for lifetime inside of, wherever sugar and boiling water aren’t just part parts for a awesome cup of tea (you could want to avert your eyes for the duration of the most viscerally unpleasant scene involving a kettle considering the fact that Line of Duty’s rogue jail guards roughed up Lindsay Denton), officers burst into cells carrying riot equipment, and most of the inmates should, as just one character factors out, be in psychiatric care, not jail.

His personal aid officer is Eric McNally, performed by Stephen Graham, a scrupulous, first rate guard with an unblemished report he could not be even further from an Orange Is The New Black-fashion villain, having off on abuses of electricity. When an inmate seeks to exploit a spouse and children secret, although, he finds himself forced to decide on in between his principles and the basic safety of individuals closest to him.

<p>Graham plays prison officer Eric McNally</p>

Graham performs jail officer Eric McNally

/ BBC/Matt Squire

Mark and his fellow prisoners transfer by way of a world drained of colour: this establishment appears to exist virtually fully in greyscale, punctuated only by dashes of gentle blue (the washed-out shade of the striped shirts worn for family members visits) and burgundy (the colour of their operate scrubs). Just one inmate receives “a black and white photocopy of a colouring in” from his younger daughter – the first will get wrecked, in circumstance it is laced with spice.

It is bleak stuff, and there’s a sense of grim, pretty much tragic inevitability to lots of of the tales that unfurl above the system of a few episodes, in particular Eric’s (made all the much more wrenching by Graham’s calculated performance). Yet amid all this grey, moments of unbearable sadness sometimes make way for glimmers of redemption. These flashes of hope in the gloom, along with the thoroughly dealt with, humanising glimpses into the again stories of a handful of other inmates, make this traditional McGovern. There is a specific didacticism to it, of training course, but it never ever gets in the way of a potent narrative.

Bean stars as Mark, who is haunted by his criminal offense

/ BBC/Matt Squire

It’s the second time that Bean and Graham have labored together, owning previously starred alongside just one an additional in an episode of McGovern’s 2010 anthology series Accused, and their scenes with each other are powerfully understated. This is substantially extra than a two-hander, although, and it’d be remiss to overlook the quietly heartbreaking performances of the supporting forged, from Hannah Walters, married to Graham in actual lifestyle, as Eric’s wife Sonia, to Jack McMullen as Mark’s youthful cellmate Daniel, whose lengthy sentence stretches out hopelessly in entrance of him, to the reliably fantastic Siobhan Finneran as the prison’s chaplin.

Eric is pressured to opt for amongst his demanding values and preserving his relatives protected

/ BBC/James Stack

Their do the job, in tandem with McGovern’s devastating tale-telling and striking direction from Lewis Arnold (who formerly worked on displays these kinds of as Des and the 3rd series of Broadchurch), assures that these three hour-lengthy episodes are complicated but critical viewing. It is the two deeply damning and touchingly hopeful, at at the time a searing indictment of a program where by for the most part, as a single of Mark’s cellmates places it, “you arrive in lousy and you go out worse” and a testomony to our potential to change.

Time is on BBC A person on June 6 at 9pm. The full series will be readily available on BBC iPlayer after episode just one has aired.