Review: Jimmy McGovern's hard-hitting BBC1 prison drama Time really packs a punch

Violence was ever-present in Jimmy McGovern’s Time (BBC1, Sun, 9pm). Even if there wasn’t actually a scrap going on, the threat of it hung in the air like chlorine gas, choking the men in this tale of prison life.

Friday, 11th June 2021, 5:31 pm
Updated Friday, 11th June 2021, 5:34 pm

Sean Bean played Mark, sentenced to four years in HMP Craigmore for killing a cyclist in a traffic accident. The very first scene – in which a fight breaks out in a holding area as Mark waits to be processed into the prison – puts you on edge, dreading the next wrong look, or misplaced word.

Mark is us, an everyman, the ordinary, largely law-abiding person who, after a appalling error of judgement, finds himself in a totally alien environment.

Through his eyes we see everything McGovern wants us to see. The casual violence, the inefficiency of the system, the tension between punishment and rehabilitation, which only seems to happen by accident.

Sean Bean starred in the new BBC prison drama Time, written by Jimmy McGovern
Sean Bean starred in the new BBC prison drama Time, written by Jimmy McGovern

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Meanwhile, Stephen Graham, as prison officer Eric McNally, faces his own demons, as his jailbird son is ‘offered protection’ by inmates who know exactly where he is incarcerated.

The first episode is pretty grim, but the next two – available on iPlayer – develop the story of these two men, their principles not just tested, but crushed by the system which doesn’t allow for a personal moral code.

“Horrible places, prisons,” says McNally, and you can feel McGovern’s fury at the wasted lives at every turn, and that hits you straight between the eyes.

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