Time – an outstanding and perfectly balanced crime drama


Rating: 5 out of 5.

BBC One’s new drama, from the legendary Jimmy McGovern, is an outstanding and perfectly balanced journey into the complexities of the criminal justice system. McGovern tackles the opposing worlds of incarceration by basing his drama around an officer and a prisoner as he explores themes of power, ethics and control. Here the thin divide between imprisonment and freedom takes centre stage in an intuitive story that understands how our instant decisions often lead to chaos.

Mark Cobden (Sean Bean) sits quietly in a prison transport van, his mind a blur as he processes the devastating four-year prison sentence he has received. Mark is unusual among his fellow transportees as an ex-teacher in his mid-50s whose life has been torn apart following a drunken night at the wheel of his car, a night where he killed a cyclist. As he arrives at the prison, he is steered through the induction programme and introduced to his personal officer, Eric McNally (Stephen Graham). Eric has 22 years of service under his belt and is the epitome of professionalism. However, miles away, Eric’s son, David, also sits in a prison cell on a short sentence, and as a loving dad, he will do anything to ensure his son’s safety.

McGovern’s drama never falls into the simplistic prison narrative we so often see; there are no simple villains, no easy choices and no heroes who save the day. Instead, Time remains embedded in the stark reality of individual decisions, incarceration and underfunded rehabilitation. Time acknowledges that offending behaviours are often wrapped in various social issues, from addiction to financial problems, community expectations and fear. Equally, it is interested in the communities the prison establishment creates; communities built on the very social ills that often lead an individual into prison. The result is a compelling and nuanced drama that understands the broader issues surrounding a criminal justice system creaking under pressure. Make no mistake, this exquisite drama is one of the best of the year.



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