Saturday 25 November 2017

TV Review: Prisoners' Wives

A new six-part drama following the lives of women whose husbands are in prison

'Ballsy': Polly Walker is Francesca in BBC One's new six-part drama, Prisoners' Wives. Photo: BBC
'Ballsy': Polly Walker is Francesca in BBC One's new six-part drama, Prisoners' Wives. Photo: BBC

Ed Cumming

Prisoners’ Wives is new six-part drama showing the lives of women whose husbands are locked up, began last night on BBC One.

It started like a Bourne film. Gemma (Emma Rigby) and husband Steve (Jonas Armstrong) giggled in the kitchen, happy and in love. Then a red sniper’s dot appeared on Steve’s head, the latest cliché for danger and police burst in with machine guns and locked him up on suspicion of murder.

Things calmed down after that. Over the next hour we saw how Gemma reacted to all this, and met other wives in similar circumstances. Lou (Natalie Gavin) sold weed to make ends meet. Harriet (Pippa Haywood) sat in her car outside the prison gates, muttering. Best of all was blowsy, ballsy Francesca (Polly Walker), married to an international drug-runner (sinister Iain Glen). She had a big house and money, but suffered the judgment of her children’s schoolfriends. Walker was superb at being caught between two highly powered worlds, although the scene in which she compared her husband to bankers was tough to swallow.

It wasn’t the only triteness. Some of the dialogue was fully stupid. “How’s the cooking?” Gemma simpered on her first visit to jail. “Better than yours,” Steve replied, to prove he’d not lost his wit and charm. “I’m joking,” he quickly added, for anyone unsure. And the passage near the end, where Francesca helped Gemma fix a leak, was pass-me-the-brandy awful.

There were logical problems, too. Even the most loyal wife might have suspicions when their husband was arrested at gunpoint and held without bail. And Gemma still worried that the world would find out about his arrest, even as it was on the front pages of local newspapers.

Still, Walker wasn’t the only highlight. Rigby, whose previous credits stretched to a long stint on Hollyoaks, played Gemma with an appealing mixture of distress and defiance. Her face is almost aggressively open, always on the verge of tears but also capable of putting up a front.

The problem was that the drama didn’t know whether to be the gritty flipside of Criminal Justice, or a bleaker Hollyoaks. Hopefully it will work this out over the next five episodes; viewers will need better evidence to stick the full term.

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