when TV is this gripping, who cares if it’s realistic?
Prisons, like schools and hospitals, make good settings for drama because they gather disparate characters into one place and trap them there. But prison dramas add an extra level of mystery because most of us, Deo volente, never see inside a real one, giving the usual suspects on the sofa less room to grouch about implausible plotting or (zzz) “woke” casting. Anything goes.
Screw (Channel 4), back for a much-merited second series, remains a well-served blend of broiling menace and leavening wit. The good news for C Wing’s commander Leigh (Nina Sosanya) – or Miss Henry as she’s officially known – is that she’s no longer so married to the job that she kips in the nick. More iffily, it turns out her no-strings cheap-hotel squeeze is the prison’s acting governor (Barnaby Kay). In one breath they’re talking about hooking up; in the next he’s ordering her to quash a rumour that there’s an undercover copper on the wing. Might such a conflict of priorities happen for real? When it’s this gripping, who cares?
Prison dramas are usually jobs for the boys – a gnarled array of our finest plug-ugly character actors. They’re all present and correct here, doling out blunt force and simmering rage, but Screw’s strongest positive is the gender balance among prison staff. Sosanya, so good at fusing warmth with hard frost, is ideally cast. Among her colleagues, Jackie Stokes (Laura Checkley) talked sensitively about the cons’ loveless childhoods. “Cry me a river,” snarled the script’s go-to cynic Gary Campbell (Stephen Wight), who pours cold water on the very idea of empathy.
As for the young warden Rose Gill (Derry Girls’ Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), she remains the character through whom the viewer can imagine the manifest challenges of the job: “Ninety-nine per cent boredom and one per cent sheer terror,” as one old lag says. You sure can see that one per cent in her eyes, and the moreishness of Screw is you feel it too.