British prison drama Time: What are you in for?

By Gen Terblanche12 March 2024

British prison drama Time: What are you in for?

Time Season 1 (written by Jimmy McGovern, and winner of the 2022 Best Mini-series BAFTA) took us inside a men’s prison. Prison guard Eric (Stephen Graham) reached out to help new inmate Mark Cobden (Sean Bean, who won a BAFTA for this role), but found his compassion challenged when dangerous inmates began to target him and his own son, who was serving a sentence in another prison. 

Time Season 2 (co-written by Jimmy McGorvern and Helen Black) shifts focus to Carlingford Prison, a grim British women’s institution where three new inmates are about to start (or continue) their sentences. Orla (Jodie Whittaker, Doctor Who), a single mother, is serving her first sentence. Enigmatic Abi (Tamara Lawrence, Small Axe, Kindred) is serving a life sentence, and Kelsey (Bella Ramsey, The Last of Us, Game of Thrones), a heroin addict, is at the start of a new stretch behind bars. While prison disrupts and destroys their lives, they’ll also find camaraderie as they uncover the truths that’ll set them free.

Watch the trailer for Time Season 2

Watch Time Seasons 2 on Showmax now »

Like any inmates, we have one important question for each of the three newcomers: “What are you in for”?

Orla: stealing electricity

Jodie Whittaker as Orla in Time S2 on Showmax
Jodie Whittaker as Orla

In the first episode, this single mom, who took her three kids to school in the morning before secretly heading for court, suddenly finds herself sentenced to six months in prison and is carted off with no notice. Orla’s crime? Meddling with her electricity supply metre. Underpaid and battling alone, Orla was in a deepening financial hole and wanted to keep the lights and heat on for her kids as her utility prices went through the roof thanks to record high energy price hikes (at a time during which fuel companies reported profits in the billions). 

Orla is a first-time offender and she’s petrified, confused, panic-stricken and desperately scrambling to set up care for her children now that she is behind bars. Orla enters prison with nothing, not even the pads or tampons she needs to manage her period, which (of course), catches her on the hop on her first day. And she isn’t even allowed to make a phone call to arrange for someone to pick up her kids from school. 

Orla isn’t just going to lose six months. Going to prison creates a cascade of disastrous consequences including losing her job, her home, and her family. The sentence is immeasurably harsher than the crime. Orla is in for a devastating time as her frightened, crying children come to visit her. And her inexperience behind bars make her vulnerable to unwittingly crossing lines with the inmates, and unintentionally falling foul of the prison staff.

Abi: murder

Tamara Lawrence as Abi in Time S2 on Showmax
Tamara Lawrence as Abi

Abi, a former nurse, comes from a privileged background compared to most of the inmates. She claims that she is behind bars for murdering her sister-in-law. The truth is more tragic and more complicated. Her behaviour early on as she tries to protect herself from would-be thieves hints at a hair trigger temper … or does it? A closer look at Abi soon reveals someone who’s haunted and guilt stricken by what she did at a time when she was vulnerable, isolated and unsupported. Escaping deadly abuse at her previous prison, Abi is determined to keep news of who she really is and what she did from spreading. And to protect herself, she wants to convince everyone that she is a woman with nothing to lose. 

Once news spreads in episode 2, though, Abi crosses the invisible line in prison between “innocent” prisoners who’re more victims of social systems or existing while being female (like Orla and Kelsey), and those who are “guilty” of violent crimes. Being seen as a real criminal (and one who’s guilty of a crime that even hardened prisoners consider to be a taboo) makes Abi a target for bullying, cruel humiliation, and even physical attacks. Abi winds up truly alone behind bars but still reaches out to Kelsey and Orla to help them.

Kelsey: drug possession

Bella Ramsey as Kelsey in Time S2 on Showmax
Bella Ramsey as Kelsey

Lost, funny, 19-year-old Kelsey is the “pick a struggle” prisoner. Her heroin addiction has only grown since she was last behind bars, and she’s fallen victim to an abusive relationship with her drug dealer boyfriend, Adam (Nicholas Nunn). Now as she enters prison yet again thanks to Adam, who used her as a drug mule after she tried to escape him, an examination from the prison nurse reveals that she’s pregnant. 

Abi complicates Kelsey’s choices when she tells her that judges are often more lenient on pregnant prisoners, and that the pregnancy also promises to give her access to the gentler mother and baby unit of the prison. Believing Abi, and hoping that protecting her baby will help her to break free of the stranglehold of addiction, Kelsey decides to go through with it, despite the fact that a baby will tie her to her toxic abuser. 

Throughout the series, Kelsey’s body is a battleground. Adam uses it to control her, and exploits it to smuggle drugs by kissing her or making her hide them in her vagina. Kelsey battles the clawing need that addiction has created in her. And adding a baby to the mix makes her relationship with her body even more complicated. Kelsey’s familiarity with the prison system is overwhelmed by the fact that she is facing a major life change and impossible decisions. 

Behind bars, all three women have Time to make or break the rest of their lives.

Watch Time Season 2 on Showmax now.

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