TIME | WE’VE BEEN WATCHING
Jimmy McGovern’s latest TV series is Time by name and timely by nature. Just as the right-wing media are bleating on about curtailed liberties in relation to the possible extension of coronavirus measures, this gritty and gripping three-part drama illustrates what it’s really like to be deprived of your freedom.
Time tells the parallel tales of prisoner Mark Cobden and prison officer Eric McNally. Cobden (Sean Bean) is a wet-behind-the-ears first-timer struggling to adapt to the fundamentally unfamiliar, frightening and violent environment behind bars, while McNally (Stephen Graham) is an experienced professional, firm but fair, who finds himself increasingly backed into a corner. The mild-mannered English teacher has to quickly develop the skills necessary to survive on the inside, learning some tough lessons along the way – and the seasoned screw also comes to understand the need to do what you have to do to protect yourself and those you love.
Much seems to have been made, on social media at least, of the curious decision to cast Bean, 62, as the onscreen son of parents played by Sue Johnston and David Calder, 77 and 74 years old respectively. Indeed, it unnecessarily detracts from the story’s otherwise robust commitment to realism. Bean nevertheless performs the role reasonably well, though is inevitably overshadowed by Graham, your go-to guy if you want tight-lipped intensity.
Time is a searing indictment of the way in which the carceral system institutionalises those within it – both prisoners and prison wardens – and helps to perpetuate vicious cycles rather than to break them. Like The Wire and Breaking Bad, it shows what can happen to essentially good people who are ground down by their immediate circumstances. The series is also a moving meditation on rehabilitation and redemption – difficult to achieve, without doubt, but ultimately not impossible.
Available on BBC iPlayer now. Info: here
words BEN WOOLHEAD photos JAMES STACK