Screw, review: Porridge played straight in new likeable prison drama

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Viewers of last year’s BBC prison drama, Time, will have come away with the impression that life behind bars is hideous. Channel 4’s Screw takes a different approach. It’s pitched at the midpoint between Time and Porridge. Bad things almost happen, but then they’re averted in a comic style. 

An example. An inmate has spent the episode asking prison officers for help, but they’re too busy or dismissive to find out what he needs. In desperation, he holds a knife to a cellmate’s throat. We finally learn his demand: he wants to know why they’ve taken apple crumble off the menu. The officers roll their eyes. 

Writer Rob Williams, whose credits include the excellent 2019 drama The Victim, previously taught art in a prison, and has volunteered in them since. He is making the point that prison life is a mix of the mundane and blackly comic, where blow-ups occur over the smallest of things. 

The result is a sanitised drama in which the audience has little emotional investment in the lives of the inmates (contrast this with Time, where even overheard conversations in the visiting room packed a punch) and the tension is far outweighed by the lighter moments. 

Much more successful is Williams’s handling of the officers, who are the main focus. Nina Sosanya plays Leigh Henry, senior officer in charge of C Wing at the fictional Long Marsh Prison. She’s married to the job and keeps secrets from her colleagues. 

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