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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Doing Time

Review by Ben Soton

Time (2021) BBC One; three-part series; Dir: Lewis Arnold; stars: Sean Bean and Stephen Graham

FOR THE RECORD I have spent time in prison…teaching literacy and IT skills to inmates at HMP Winchester. Prison is also the subject the BBC Sunday night drama Time by Jimmy McGovern. For those in Her Majesty’s Prisons time is something they indeed have plenty of. The main character Mark Cobden, played by Sean Bean, is a guilt-ridden former teacher serving a four-year sentence for a drink-driving offence in which he killed a cyclist, whilst the drama contains a variety of sub-plots revolving around the lives of other inmates and prison officers.


The drama correctly dispels the myth that prison life is easy. Prisons are unpleasant, overcrowded, violent places serving horrible food and where there is little to do. Regular readers of this column are probably aware that I am not a liberal, and many of those in prison should be there. What needs to be asked is whether prisons serve their purpose, which ultimately is rehabilitation.

Most of those in jail are from the lowest section of the working class and those from minority backgrounds make up a disproportionate share of the prison population. Time shows the tragedy of those people’s lives.

A prisoner who meets the parents of the man he killed explains that he got into a fight over a spilt drink that he could not afford to pay for and did not want to admit to only having £1.20 in his pocket. My first thoughts were why go into a pub in the first place if that’s all you’ve got? But I have not lived that man’s set of experiences. The programme encouraged me to confront my hard working-class prejudices.

What makes Time watchable is that Mark is not a typical prisoner. The ultimate fish out of water, Mark is not a violent man. He has a degree level education. His ability to read and write helps him gain favour with other prisoners. On the other hand, he is forced to learn to defend himself against violent convicts and takes a short crash course from the prison’s Mr Big, Jackson Jones, played by Brian McCardie.

Although Time ended last Sunday it is still available on BBC iPlayer and is well worth watching. It’s the story of a man coping with extraordinary circumstances he did not expect to have to deal with.

In many ways it shows the essence of the human condition; namely having to adapt to our surroundings in order to survive. Meanwhile, if you learn nothing else from the drama remember to drive carefully, and if you enjoy a drink go to a local pub or get a bus.