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Screw review: Whipsmart Channel 4 prison drama masters the balance of humour and danger

Officers Rose and Leigh have a prickly relationship at the start (Picture: Channel 4)

When someone thinks about what life inside a prison is really life, words like cold, violent and harrowing may spring to mind.

While those descriptions may be true, they may also find warmth, compassion and humour behind the barbed wire, a fact that new Channel 4 drama Screw superbly conveys.

Created by Bafta-nominated writer Rob Williams – who had previous experience working and volunteering inside prisons – the six-part TV series follows a group of officers working in a wing of a high-intensity men’s prison, lead by Leigh (His Dark Materials star Nina Sosanya), who is nothing if not committed to her job.

Viewers step through the front doors of the building alongside newbie Rose (Derry Girls star Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), a 21-year-old trainee who’s thrown into the deep end straight away, having to learn how to cope with the demands of inmates and her superiors on the job.

There have been many dramas about prisons over the years, from the recent Sean Bean BBC programme Time to Wentworth and Prisoner: Cell Block H.

However, Screw takes a courageous new approach, interweaving the dramatic with the comedic, shining a spotlight on how messy, funny and problematic human beings can be, all at the same time.

Leigh may have a compassionate side, but she takes no prisoners (Picture: Channel 4/Mark Mainz)

This show will have you laughing one minute and welling up the next, such is the brilliance of its writing and the talent of its cast, both in and out of the jail cells. In episode one, you flit from prisoners creating makeshift weapons to a storyline centred around an exotic bullfrog, demonstrating that Screw truly does have it all.

Watching Nina lead the charge as Leigh, it’s a wonder she hasn’t had more lead roles. From the opening shot, viewers are immediately made aware of how much her job means to her, while gathering that there’s far more to her than meets the eye.

In comes Rose, who exhibits her emotions far more readily on her sleeve. She and Leigh have a prickly relationship from the off, with the superior officer showing very little patience for somewhat understandable mistakes.

Even if you have absolutely no experience, it appears that for both prisoners and officers, pretending you’re not a bucket of nerves is one of the keys of survival.

Rose is very much thrown into the deep end (Picture: Channel 4/Mark Mainz)

Not that this was ever in doubt, but Screw further proves Jamie-Lee’s versatility as an actress, having shone as the straight-talking Michelle in Derry Girls. With the 1990s sitcom shortly coming to an end, it’s thrilling to see Screw highlight her talent in a new environment.

Joining Leigh and Rose in the office are fellow screws Ali (Faraz Ayub), Gary (Stephen Wight), Don (Ron Donachie) and Jackie (Laura Checkley), an eclectic and entertaining bunch to watch, with unique character quirks that one can imagine Rob lifting directly from real officers whose paths he crossed.

Gary is one of the most distrusting officers when it comes to the inmates (Picture: Channel 4/Mark Mainz)

A conscious choice that was made by the creators of Screw was that viewers would not find out the crimes that the inmates have committed.

This gives the audience the freedom to reserve judgement for the prisoners until they’ve seen the way that they interact with others, just like the officers do themselves – a masterful way of letting members of the public step into the shoes of the characters on the series.

Verdict on Screw

With 2021 nearly over, many people will be looking for their next TV fix to begin the new year.

Viewers shouldn’t think twice about switching on Screw, which boasts a fantastic cast, smart writing and a refreshing take on an age-old genre.

Some of the best stories on TV are the ones that make you reevaluate your perspective or see things in a new light, which this drama definitely achieves.

If you fancy some gripping drama teamed with a whole load of laughs, Screw will certainly fit the bill.

Screw premieres on Thursday January 6 at 9pm on Channel 4


Credit: Original article published here.

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