Today: May 23, 2024

Prison dramas are certainly nothing new. There are countless films and TV series set inside ‘the big house’, from the harrowing tales like Animal Factory to the overall uplifting like The Shawshank Redemption. Falling somewhere in between comes award-winning writer Jimmy McGovern’s new 3-parter Time, a darkly compelling look at life inside for two quite different men.

Following the parallel and occasionally intertwined stories of English teacher Mark Cobden (Sean Bean), sentenced to four years for taking the life of a family man when drink-driving, and prison officer Eric McNally (Stephen Graham) who finds himself at the beck and call of a psychotic inmate, this engrossing drama offers a disturbing snapshot of prison life. Harrowing and disturbing in equal measure when portraying the intense and volatile two years it covers, the series is an impeccable edge-of-your-seat experience that will certainly convince viewers to stay on the straight-and-narrow and avoid the inside at all costs…

But the series is at its best when it gets away from the violent harshness of prison and instead focuses on the emotion – Mark’s grief and guilt, and Eric’s moral dilemma to protect his son. The performances of Bean and Graham are astonishing, both powerfully understated and intense, and never outshining one another. This is absolutely a series of two leads, and they are both remarkable. McGovern’s writing is, as always, incredible, with all of the drama hitting home while the thrills keep jaws on the floor. British TV doesn’t get much better than this, and after the disappointing final season of Line of Duty earlier in the year, Time is a reminder of just how good the BBC can be when it comes to hard-hitting drama.

Time is an incredible slice of British drama, and the best screen prison story since The Shawshank Redemption.

Time is available now on DVD from BBC

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