Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Crime and Passion

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Crime and Passion

Article excerpt

New dramas from the BBC tell compelling tales of offenders and their motivations, says Matt Hills.

BBC One's double dip into new drama with Prisoners' Wives (Tuesday 31 January, 9pm) and Inside Men (Thursday 2 February, 9pm) ponders a familiar question: does crime pay? Each offers a recessionary social realism - everyday life happening amid economic hardship - and each wonders where we can draw the line between criminality and innocence.

The six-part Prisoners' Wives boasts a great opening, as what looks like a soapy relationship series lurches into action-thriller territory. Akin to 24's Jack Bauer suddenly bursting into Coronation Street, this TV mission statement forces the viewer to sit up and take notice. The programme's name is odd, mind you: not all its female leads are actually prisoners' wives, and the preview's title sequence compounds things by referring to itself as Prisoners Wives. Following Waterstones' lead and dropping the possessive apostrophe might be about graphic design tidiness, I suppose. Or perhaps it's meant to stress how much these wives don't "belong" to their imprisoned menfolk.

Indebted to the likes of The Street, Prisoners' Wives is an ensemble drama where each episode focuses on one woman's story, though we still follow subplots relating to other characters. Gemma (Emma Rigby) is our focus for episode one, introducing the disorienting, pent-up world of prison visits when her partner Steve, ex-Robin Hood Jonas Armstrong, is accused of murder. Francesca (Polly Walker) finds her glamorous lifestyle under threat in episode two, as her career-criminal hubby is forced to pay back millions under the Proceeds of Crime Act. And prim, middle-class Harriet - a role Pippa Haywood imbues with great dramatic and comic timing - is pushed into drastic measures to help her son, come episode three. Curiously, this leaves Lou (Natalie Gavin) rather sidelined, although her character, a dealer living on a rough estate, should provide the archetypal focus for some gritty realism. Instead, Prisoners' Wives casts a wider net over the lives, loves and losses of its characters. Something it does very effectively is to cut between inmates and their outmates: Gemma climbs the stairs to bed; her other half clambers the ladder to his bunk. And despite the emphasis on gender, class identity also remains central throughout: Gemma's middle-class existence is shattered by Steve's alleged crime; Harriet's world is alien to Lou's; Francesca doesn't belong in her mansion-house milieu.

Shifting from Prisoners' Wives to workers' lives, Inside Men plays out class differences too. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.