When the first series of BBC1 drama Prisoners’ Wives began last year people were quick to make snap decisions on what sort of drama it was destined to be. The title had unwittingly given most people the impression that this would be some sort of ‘Footballer’s Wives’ esque drama for BBC1. If like me, you managed to looked past the dodgy title you soon discovered Prisoners’ Wives was a moving, tension packed and emotional piece lead by some of the best woman on television.
The stories featured in the first series were tackled with with a truth and reality I wasn’t quite prepared for. The cast themselves heard from women in a similar situation who felt the series had shone a light onto their world. The performances from the four principal female leads were rooted in truth and felt instantly believable. Though Series one wasn’t the most talked about series of 2012, there was no question in my mind that it was deserving of a second series.
Flash forward to November 2012 and I’m sat in a room on the set of series two. It was a cold and miserable day as the cast filmed in Rotherham. The only possible downside to the second series is the length of the new series. The commission was for four episodes rather than the standard six, but having seen the first episode you’ve no need worry about whether anything has changed as far as story lining and pace is concerned. Of course due to the nature of series only two of principal cast are back for this second series. Pippa Haywood is back reprising her role as lovely mum Harriet and Polly Walker returns as glamorous gangster’s wife Francesca.
Series two is set two weeks after the end of series one, when we first meet back up with Francesca we discover she is still living with her two teenage children and her father (David Bradley). Right from the first few seconds of the tense opening episode you know Series 2 is going to be a complete rollercoaster as the family are awoken by an event that is sure to shape the entire series. Francesca is unwittingly thrust into her husband world. Francesca’s story is ramped up for this series as she tries to keep her family safe.
We then catch up with Harriet (played superbly by the brilliant Pippa Haywood) who has somewhat come to terms with her only son going to prison and is slowly trying to get her own life back on track. During the first series Harriet’s world was turned upside down when her only son was unexpectedly sent to prison. Harriet is timid but throughout series one she came out of shell and developed a close relationship of the prison Chaplin. When we meet Harriet in the opening episode of the new series she is rediscovering her faith whilst slowly perusing her relationship with the Chaplin. Her son Gavin, who spent the first series being beaten by other prisoners and desperate for a way out is adjusting to prison life and keen to become a Muslim.
The format of the series means we are introduced to two new Prisoners’ Wives. Well.. one prisoners’ wife and a prisoner’s daughter. Karla Crome (last seen in ITV’s Lightfields) appears as Aisling. Asiling’s father is a petty criminal who has been in prison more than he’s been out and Aisling has become accustomed to visiting her father inside. She’s getting married and desperate for her him to be out in time to walk her down the aisle.
Aside from Francesca’s story, I found the other new character’s storyline the most engaging. In scenes that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in an episode of Jimmy McGovern’s Accused Kim’s husband is arrested at home and dragged into a police as his stunned wife, a ton of party guests and his bemused young sons look on. Shameless star Sally Carman draws you in as Kim struggles to come to terms with the sudden changes in her life, whilst trying to keep her home life normal for the sake of her boys. Husband Mick is a respected member of his community and coach of a young boy’s football team. When I met Sally back on that wet November day in Rotherham she said “Mick is arrested for just about the worst thing you can be arrested for.” I was completely drawn in by Kim’s story. Carman plays her brilliantly and as an audience member you’re unsure of what to believe.
Unlike the first series, which saw the characters stories intertwine in places, the stories are played out separately this year. I was initially very disappointed that we weren’t getting the more standard six episode series this year, but in actual fact I think it has helped the series. There is so much action and drama in this opening episode that you’ll need the week to catch your breath. It would be easy for the series to veer off into over the top territory and the temptation to sensationalise things must be tempting but it never does. Writer Julie Gearey works closely with Manchester based charity POPS to ensure the series feels authentic and true to prison life. The characters here are easy to relate to and it shines a spotlight on an issue we’re not always acutely aware of. Prisoners Wives’ deserves all the recognition it can get and I look forward to the rest of the series.
Prisoners’ Wives begins tonight (Thursday 14th March) at 9.00pm on BBC1