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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Oct 30, 2021



AFTER quite a while, we got to watch a TV series again, the BBC prison drama series, “Time”. 

We avoided watching 8 to 10-part TV series as we often get bored with all the padding they put just to extend the running time. What’s nice about “Time” is that it only has 3 one-hour episodes, and very fast paced. 

The series has two lead characters: one a prisoner and the other one, an officer in the prison. By the time the show ends, there will be a reversal in their fortunes and how it all unfolds is very engrossing to watch.

The first episode starts with Mark Cobden (Sean Bean) entering the prison. He is a school teacher who killed a man while driving under the influence of liquor.  He gets a sentence of five years. 

He is an alcoholic and his wife has separated from him. He’s life is clearly in shambles but his elderly parents and teenage son continue to support him, visiting him in prison.

Eric McNally (Stephen Graham) is an exemplary prison officer for more than 20 years. He is very considerate and tries his best to serve and protect the inmates placed under his care. 

He and his wife get along fine but their only son has gone astray and is serving time in another prison.

Mark suffers from guilt feeling for his crime. He hears the wife of his victim blaming him all the time for killing a responsible husband and father. 

He tries to send a letter to the wife asking for forgiveness but he is rebuffed. And then, he also has to face the harsh, violent world of prison life for which he is not prepared at all. 

He is relentlessly bullied by a younger prisoner, Johnno, who steals his food or spits on them if he could not get it. 

When it’s his turn to talk on the phone during their breaks, the vicious inmate snatches the phone away from him. He cannot complain to prison officials as he will be labelled a snitch. 

Another older inmate advises him to fight back or Johnno will always take advantage of him. He then decides to no longer draw the line and hits back at Johno who he brutally bites on one ear.  

When he is given the chance to go out, the prison’s most dangerous inmate ask him to do a favor and when he refuses, they gang up on him in his cell.

In the case of Eric, a prisoner talks to him saying they know that his son is in another prison and they want him to run errands for them or the safety of his son will be put in jeopardy. 

He refuses and requests his superiors to please move his son to another prison. 

But the bad guys are still able to track down where his son is transferred and have him badly beaten up. Eric faces an impossible choice between his responsibilities to his job and to his son. 

He eventually had to comply to his oppressors and starts smuggling drugs for them inside the prison. 

“Time” is compulsively watchable because of the terrific performances of Sean Bean and Stephen Graham as the two leads. They both deliver very controlled portrayals that will draw you in from the start, never giving what’s more than necessary and always restraining any attempt to overact. 

As a whole, it’s a gritty take on contemporary British penitentiary system told from the point of view of two very different men.

In the case of Sean Bean, right in the very first scene when he is shown arriving in jail, you can sense that he does not really belong there. 

He is well mannered, educated, and totally a fish out of water in the company of vile and hostile young prisoners. 

With Stephen Graham, we feel he is fully dedicated on the side of justice, and when he is forced to choose between his moral principles and his son, we can sympathize with as he is pushed against the wall. Both of them give a master class in restrained acting.

“Time” is really a show about repentance and forgiveness. The final scene where Mark Cobden finally gets the chance to face the widow of the man he accidentally killed is very touching. Eric McNally’s story ends in a bleak and downbeat manner. 

His last scene where he is about to cry but stops his tears is heart-wrenching since we know he’s a good man at heart and it’s not really his intention to break the law. 

The show features subplots on other prison inmates and their own individual stories. 

The most memorable are the stories of Bernard (Aneurin Barnard), Mark’s first cellmate whose body is full of scars from wounds he has inflicted on himself; Daniel (Jack McMullen), Mark’s second cellmate who is wracked with guilt for killing another man during a drunken brawl; and Patterson (Nabil Elouahabi), an illiterate black guy who Mark teaches how to read and write.