REVIEW: Time was one of the best British dramas of 2021.
Not only did it welcome back a beloved screenwriter – Cracker, Moving On and Hillsborough’s Jimmy McGovern – to prime time, but it also showcased the talents of two of the UK’s most under-rated actors, in Sean Bean and Stephen Graham.
A brilliantly executed look at two men on either side of the cell door of the prison system, the taut three-parter never wasted a second, as it assailed you from the opening scene, never letting up until the final credits rolled.
Now, McGovern and Time have returned (a second trio of episodes have just dropped on Neon), upping the ante by focusing on three female inmates at Carlingford Prison.
While there’s plenty of incident, tension and raw emotions, this thankfully eschews the excesses of Bad Girls, Wentworth and Orange is the New Black, keeping the narrative tightly on the shared – and varied – experiences of Orla O’Riordan (Jodie Whittaker), Kelsey Morgan (Bella Ramsey) and Abi Cochrane (Tamara Lawrance).
Cell-mates in B-Block, where they have 24-hour access to a kitchen, bathroom and TV lounge (“Unless you misbehave, of course,” a guard informs them), the trio come laden with plenty of baggage, as they are thrown together.
Abi has already served three-and-a-half years of her life sentence at another prison, young drug recidivist Kelsey is back for her third stint behind bars, while Orla was so convinced she would get off with a warning for “fiddling the leccy” (tampering with her electricity meter) that she hadn’t even told anyone she was heading to court when she dropped her kids off at school.
And if temporarily losing her freedom because of “aggravating factors” wasn’t bad enough, her alcoholic mother has defied her wishes and decided to look after the three children herself. Orla knows it’s all going to end in tears – and a visit from social services that will likely tear her family apart.
Kelsey’s immediate dilemma is whether to start one of her own. Struggling with a much bigger heroin dependency than when she was last in, she’s torn between requesting a high dose of methadone and finding ways to smuggle in her preferred poison, when she’s shocked to discover that she’s pregnant.
Initially, there are no plans to keep the baby. However, when she learns that a judge might be more lenient towards a prospective mother, that opinion changes.
Meanwhile, having endured a less-than-happy time towards the end of her last “placement”, Abi is dismayed when the secret of who she killed leaks out.
Warning the other two to keep their door locked at night, she advises the less-experienced duo that “this is a prison – they won’t just smack me on the bum [for what she’s done]…they will cut my throat”.
While the pace is sometimes breathless, Time never descends into easy tropes or melodrama.
As well as McGovern’s trademark crisp, insightful and spare writing, that feeling is enhanced by terrific turns from Invasion’s Lawrance, The Last of Us’ Ramsey and Doctor Who’s Whittaker.
The latter is particularly compelling as an under-pressure solo mum who suddenly finds herself not only in extremely unfamiliar surroundings, but also that her life outside the prison walls is rapidly unravelling.
“I’m in here, but it’s my kids who are doing the suffering,” she opines early on – to heart-wrenching effect.
Season 2 of Time is now available to stream on Neon.