The BBC is making a big deal of this new three-part prison drama—and not just because of its big name actors.
Sean Bean is Mark Cobden, a teacher who finds himself in prison, consumed by guilt and out of his depth.
His story intertwines with prison guard Eric McNally, played by Stephen Graham, who is forced into a dangerous situation after a threat from a prisoner.
Bean and Graham contribute a lot to the series’ strength. Bean is more Roy Cropper than Ned Stark here—but is utterly convincing as a quiet man who just wants to keep his head down. Graham’s role is more familiar for him, but he does look and speak like a prison guard.
More than that, the claustrophobic, noisy, stressful atmosphere of prison is pervasive. Close camera angles, constant background noise, but quiet, understated yet shocking violence in the foreground.
If there’s a message—delivered in some at times blunt exposition—it’s that crowding vulnerable and troubled people into prison is a dangerous idea.
Often this still seems to rest on the idea that the prisoners are the real danger.
But it is an absorbing and troubling drama.