A powerful depiction of prison life is brought to viewers’ eyes in the BBC First drama, Time. Starring Emmy and BAFTA winner Sean Bean, and four-time BAFTA nominee Stephen Graham, the drama, which premieres this August, revolves around two men on the opposite ends in prison.

Bean stars as former teacher, Mark Cobden who has been sentenced to four years for the death of an innocent man. Graham on the other hand portrays Eric McNally, a dedicated prison officer who does his best to protect those in his charge.

But this prison drama is far removed from the narratives we have seen in the past. Time expands the narrative of both prisoner and guard and the circumstances that ultimately puts the human conflict faced by both men as the show’s primary narratives.

BBC First drama Time
Sean Bean and Stephen Graham headline Time

Set within the confines of prison, the three-part series boasts an ensemble cast, headlined by Bean and Graham. The BBC First drama is authored by Emmy and three-time BAFTA-winning writer Jimmy McGovern and directed by Lewis Arnold.

For viewers, the star-studded drama serves as a test of human emotions. Bean is unflinching in his performance as a man who has to cope being in prison. Despite being put into a harsh environment, he accepts his sentence as penance.

Eric’s storyline provides a juxtaposition to the BBC First drama. When a dangerous convict threatens to hurt someone he loves, Eric is faced with an impossible choice that could pose serious ramifications for him. Unflinching but ultimately hopeful, Time is a raw study of punishment and penitence.

BBC First drama
Time takes viewers inside a British prison

In this exclusive interview with the stars of the BBC First drama, we check in with Sean Bean and Steven Graham to uncover what it was like making Time.

What was the process like for you to prepare for a story like this?

Sean Bean: I made it a point to not really to prepare too much for this role, honestly. My intent was that I wanted it all to be new. I wanted it to come as a shock to me I wanted to the surroundings and the environment. The other inmates had to be new, shocking, and scary to me. So, I didn’t really want to look inside a prison or to find out too much about prison and prison life because that’s what my character, Mark goes through.

It’s all a shock to him in the first place, that he actually killed someone through drunk driving, got arrested and sentenced to four years. That serves as quite a shock. So I wanted everything from the journey from the police station to the entrance into the prison to be something shocking and alien to me, in order for it to be more authentic.

Stephen Graham:  Our wonderful director, Lewis, sent these documentaries, which was a series on prisons that aired on Channel Four, I believe. They were so profound and insightful, and they helped cover this whole gambit of stuff that happens in prisons. It’s about mental health, the bullying aspects, drug addiction, and the life of both guards and inmates. It ran parallel to our story, and what Jimmy wrote, which was so honest and true. I also spent a day with a guard at the prison. We just walked around and observed the aspects of the job that they go through.

BBC First drama sean bean
Bean portrays Mark Cobden in the series

Does Time paint an honest picture about the prison system?

Stephen: I think what’s beautiful about Jimmy as a writer is that he is political, but he’s not overtly political. He doesn’t ram his thoughts down your throat. What’s presented is up to our interpretation as audiences and our own judgement. You know there are many barbaric things about our system still I feel personally, especially when it relates to mental health.

In this story, there’s a lot of men in that prison that shouldn’t be there to be honest. They should be in those psychiatric places or in a rehabilitation facility, or in a less hostile environment, but they can’t because there’s not enough beds and not enough professionals there to help understand their problems. I think what we did, created conversations in people’s homes and made a big impact. As an actor, that’s a joy to be apart off.

It’s a peek behind the iron bars so to speak…

Sean: Yeah, because it’s all hidden away. I mean once you hear about prisoners and prisons now and again it crops up but then it’s all pushed aside, there’s another kind of news topic that filters and takes its place. But as Steven said, there’s so many problems these people face when they’re put away for a long time.

Some of them are drug addicts and the majority have mental problems resulting in them self-harming themselves and committing suicide. So, I mean, those three four things should tell you something about the standard prisons are in. As Steven said, that’s been brought up by social commentators, journalists and even politicians. It draws attention to the problem about the need to overhaul the system, but it’s mostly lip service, because not really much gets done.

Some of these inmates should be in mental facilities, which costs money, but, you know, they’re throwing everybody together. In the show, my character gets thrown into a cell with a self-harmer who is obviously deranged. He shouldn’t be in that cell, but it’s just the luck of the draw.  So I mean there’s got to be some more thought and care put into this system and how they train these guys working within the system.

Graham as prison guard, Eric McNally

With only three-episodes, do you feel the story has been told for both characters. Will there be a follow up season?

Stephen: It’s a one-off.
Sean: Yeah, it’s a standalone. You know, it’s kind of like Fawlty Towers, you know they made like 12 episodes, and we did like three (laughs). But really, you don’t want to spoil this wonderful story, by dragging it out longer than we should.

Stephen: I feel like we live in a world now where everybody wants, second, third, fourth series. Sometimes it works but sometimes it also dilutes the impact of what it is.

The BBC First drama, Time Premieres Friday, 6 August on StarHub channel 502 and BBC Player

(Images: BBC Studios)

written by.
Richard Augustin
Former chef turned writer; Richard has tip-toed around the publishing industry for two decades. When not busy chasing deadlines, you can still find him experimenting with recipes in the kitchen.

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