‘Screw’ – An Inconsistent Series Elevated By Its Cast

Screw was Channel 4’s highly advertised comedy-drama that aimed to highlight the issues affecting the British Prison System.

Screw focuses on the daily lives of prisoners and guards in a wing of a category B prison. The woman in charge is Leigh Henry (Nina Sosanya), a senior guard who has a good relationship with the prisoners and wants to reform them. Rose (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) is a new recruit who has been blackmailed by one of the prisoners to smuggle in contraband.

Screw had a promise to draw people in. Two established actresses by British standards were in the lead roles and it was written by Rob Williams whose credits included The Victim, The Man in the High Castle, and Killing Eve. But Screw was a lacklustre series.

Williams used to teach in prisons before he became a writer. So, the series should have had a sense of authenticity to it. This hope was dashed in the first scene of the series when it was revealed that Leigh had been secretly living in the prison. It destroyed any credibility the series could have had, especially when the series wanted to address serious issues about the prison system.

Nor did it help the series when the first series had a subplot involving the prison guards finding an African Bullfrog in one of the cells. Even for a show with comedic elements it was too ridiculous.

The episodes for Screw were structured with a combination of a standalone story and long-running storylines in the background. The standalone story often focused on a prisoner having an issue and the guards needed to figure out what it is.

Examples included a prisoner seemingly being bullied and another being about a young prisoner getting transferred into the prison. These storylines ended up feeling repetitive which was remarkable for a series that was only six episodes long.

The long-running storylines involved Leigh and Rose. Leigh was in line for a promotion and she wanted to use the position to enact some radical policies, but she decided to hide her parentage. This led to Leigh getting a fake birth certificate and there was a risk throughout the series that she could be found out.

Whilst Rose had the Sword of Damocles dangling over her because she smuggled in drugs and a gun. If Rose gets found out she goes to prison. The idea of a gun being in a prison adds to the level of threat because at some point it was going to be used. It was a ticking time bomb.

The area where Screw was strong was the acting. Sosanya and O’Donnell made for great leads in the series. Sosanya’s Leigh was a seasoned prison officer and a bleeding heart liberal because she wanted to reform the inmates, despite the massive sociological challenges like stigma, poverty, and lack of support which leads to reoffending.

Rose was the audience surrogate whose character got the issues affecting the prison system explained to her. Rose only became a prison officer because of the blackmail but she had a sense of empathy and grew close to the other guards.

O’Donnell’s biggest role to date was in Derry Girls. Since that show is coming to an end she is thinking about her future roles. Screw gave O’Donnell a chance to show she has dramatic skills and could do a convincing Northern English accent.

The other major characters in the series were Jackie Stokes (Laura Checkley) and Gary Campbell (Stephen Wight). Jackie was another senior prison guard and the closest thing Leigh had to a friend. She was given the most humorous lines in the series.

Campbell was the most complex character in the series. He was a cynical character who acted as the mirror opposite of Leigh. He saw the worst in the prisoners and spoke like he was an internet commenter who had un-PC views. Yet Gary did suffer from the mental strain of the job and had a powerful scene at the end of the fifth episode.

The other two prison guards weren’t so well defined. Ali Shah (Faraz Ayub) suffered the most from this because his character was simply defined by one trait. All he did was spout out general knowledge and say, ‘that’s a fact.’

Screw was a show where some talented actors gave it their all, but it was too unbelievable for its own good and was more interested in making political statements than being a compelling drama.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like