Sean Bean & Stephen Graham give powerful performances in a prison drama where there are no winners.

There are really no winners in Time, the new UK prison drama by acclaimed writer Jimmy McGovern (Cracker, The Street, Redfern Now).

Prisoners, wardens, victims and families all seem to suffer as a consequence of an under-resourced and crowded system.

Sean Bean (Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings) stars as Mark Cobden, a British school teacher who winds up in prison after the death of a man when he was driving dangerously. Wracked with guilt, he sees the term as penance. But entering the slammer for the first time sees him woefully out of his depth.

“What are you doing?” is a matter of fact question which confronts him a lot -shorthand for how many years, and what were you convicted of?

Craigmore prison is old, cold and, as he quickly discovers, brutal at every turn. His younger cellmate has his own confronting issues and the inmate hierarchy will quickly test him.

Stephen Graham (The Virtues, Line of Duty, This is England) plays prison officer Eric McNally who, by and large, operates by the book. But information is a powerful currency behind bars and he will also face critical decisions.

Threats, fights, drugs are all second nature in this environment -as if the system is working against those within it. Siobhan Finneran (Downton Abbey) is one of the few characters bringing some hope, in the form of a local nun, Marie-Louise.

Mark, underplayed with great presence by Bean, is clinging to family and the hope of absolution from his victim’s family.

“You’re in here as punishment, son. Not for it,” his mother reminds him.

But right now it’s a fight for survival.

Jimmy McGovern masterfully brings insight into the British prison system with two powerful leads. There’s no denying it is confronting and bleak, but the upside are in the writing and excellent performances.

One downside is I had some difficulty comprehending some dialogue. Both strong accents and mumblecore combined to nearly render some scenes pointless, which is a shame given everything else is such a drawcard.

This is just 3 episodes and highly recommended if you can stomach it.

Time premieres 8:30pm Sunday July 11 on BBC First.

11 Responses

  1. Stephen Graham is one of those actors I will watch anything he appears in, because he’s that good. He actually does a pretty good American accent, as proven in Boardwalk Empire.

  2. Off the top of my head I can only think of 2 American series he’s done … not saying that’s a bad thing. He’s one of those actors – personally – you can put him in anything and I’ll watch it. Particularly impressed with his ‘Save Me’ character and his turn as Al Capone in ‘Boardwalk Empire’ was brilliant.

    Watched ‘Time’ a couple of weekends ago following the recommendation of a couple of UK friends. Liked it a lot. Speaking as a criminologist it’s a pretty compelling portrayal of “life inside”. There’s a couple of very graphic violent moments (but not entirely out of the realm of possibility when talking about prison assaults). Without straying too far into spoilers there’s a couple of things that weren’t explored that I wished might have been and there is one moment where my stomach just dropped through the floor. There’s *definitely* scope for a series 2 but don’t want it just now thanks.

  3. I’ve seen this and although I enjoyed it, I was left drained. It is so depressing, as with all Jimmy McGovern dramas. I also had to turn the volume up too as the Liverpudlian accents can be hard to understand. I usually recommend a good drama to friends but not sure I would with this .

  4. Sorry if this is a dumb question but I’m confused about how to watch this, is BBC First a separate streaming service? I couldn’t see it anywhere. The show sounds great but I can’t find it or see any other platform to watch it on.

  5. I’ve been really looking forward to this, mainly because of the actor/writer combinations. Lately, I feel like every 3rd British series I watch includes Stephen Graham. He’s just such a great actor… But his accent is tricky to understand sometimes and he does indeed mumble. I wonder if this is why he has never really cracked the U.S market like some of his British peers. He could have easily played someone like Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) from ‘The Wire’, or even Phillip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) from ‘The Americans’.

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