Last night, the final episode in the first series of Prisoners' Wives aired.
Written & created by Julie Gearey the BBC/Tiger Aspect UK series, as the title would suggest focusses on the lives of four women who each have loved ones serving time in prison. The tagline for the series is; Behind every prisoner, there's a wife, girlfriend or mother doing time on the outside. For some it's a nightmare, for others a liberation. Prisoners' Wives - it's time to tell their stories.
Polly Taylor (State of Play) plays the part of Francesca Miller, a glamorous woman who would not have looked out of place in Footballer's Wives with a massive house, a flash car, a nice marriage and two successful kids. Her husband, Paul Miller, played by Iain Glen (Spooks) is serving time for a series of crimes having made a career out of taking part in criminal activities. In Episode Two we witness the bailiffs take all of her possessions after her husband owes the bank some serious money.
Despite this 'WAG' facade, Francessca is a woman who misses her husband terribly and in particular their intimate moments, and is more than happy to receive a call from Paul who has worked out how it is possible for them to have sex. This leads to a scene that again, wouldn't look out of place in Footballer's Wives or indeed Bad Girls.
It isn't until the final episode that Francesca enters the criminal world in exchange for some money she so desperately wants. This puts further strain on the relationship she has with her father Frank (David Bradley, Harry Potter) and a shocking revelation of Francesca's personality comes to fruition towards the very end of the series.
Next we have Lou, played by Natalie Gavin who's partner Sean (Reuben Johnson) is serving time in prison on her behalf. Lou has an extra dimension to her than the other characters and that is her son Mason. At first Lou decides to keep the fact that Sean is in prison and on visits to see his dad, he is told that his dad is part of a top secret mission to build a football stadium and that he is not allowed to tell anyone.
Eventually she tells him the truth after kids at school call his bluff on the 'stadium' story and makes him us questions to his mother. We then witness Lou leaving Mason alone in bed whilst she goes out to deliver, creeping back into the world of drugs she had tried hard to leave behind.
On one particular night she is caught and Harriet who looks after Mason on this occasion is left facing Social Services as they take Mason away from her as she faces a night inside. When released, Lou and Harriet come to a decision that she is to take over responsibility of looking after Mason and by doing so Lou could move in with Harriet and make sure she is there for her son, at the very least until she herself is forced to do time.
When Sean is released there is a brief moment where the entire family seems happy, but the inevitable happens and Lou faces a 6 month prison sentence, turning the tables on the situation we'd seen play out throughout the series.
At the beginning of the first episode we are introduced to Gemma Roscoe (Emma Rigby, Hollyoaks), a young pregnant girl whose life seems perfect, living in a nice house with her husband Sean (Reuben Johnson). This all changes when her door is kicked down by police and Sean is arrested on suspicion of murder.
At first Gemma believes that he is innocent until she learns otherwise, whilst snooping around his family caravan. Gemma, finds it harder and harder as the series goes on to come to terms the ongoing discoveries related to the father of her unborn baby. She strikes an unlikely friendship with Francesca who at times questions the way Gemma reacts to certain situations and how she should stay clear of the investigation and let Sean serve his time.
Gemma's story comes to a climax in the final episode when some very dramatic scenes lead to some very life-changing decisions as she ditches the vulnerable and naive Gemma in favour of one who can stand up for herself and feels empowered to do so. In the final episode she finds herself being hunted down by one of Sean's friends whose carrying a gun at the same time she discovers that she might be going into labour.
Pippa Haywood (The Brittas Empire, Green Wing) plays Harriet, a middle-aged widowed woman whose son Gavin (Adam Gillen, Benidorm, Fresh Meat) has been sent to prison in a cruel-twist of fate after a struggle with Cannabis and falling in with the wrong crowd. We are unsure of Pippa's situation in the first two episodes as any glimpses we get of her are of a nervous woman sitting in a car outside the prison.
We assume that she is waiting too see someone who is inside, yet the reasons for her clear anxieties are unaware until we meet Gavin who we learn has not been wanting to meet with his mother after she shopped his friends to the police leading to his arrest.
The relationship is beautifully constructed as Harriet slowly comes to terms with Gavin serving time yet as a mother often does, she can see that he is struggling to cope and at times finds herself in uncompromising situations, such as smuggling drugs into the prison on behalf of her son, after he had been threatened by fellow prisoners, once again highlighting the undying love she has for her son.
What I really liked about the series was the way in which it all unfolded, and that was partly down to the fantastic writing by Julia Gearey. She has managed to create four brilliant characters who each have their own story to tell and their own way of life, yet through the fact that they all have loved ones in prison, they are able to share some common ground. Whilst some writers and programmes can make this seem false and contrived, Prisoner's Wives is neither of those.
There are no 'convenient' friendships made, friendships that have merely been set up to move the plot along. Instead, each character has been carefully created and the relationships between the characters, Gemma & Francesca and Lou & Harriet appear to be organic. The route I'm glad they didn't go down was that all four ladies suddenly became friends and have a whale of a time whilst their loved ones are locked up inside.
My hat goes off to the actors who gave outstanding performances throughout the series. Natalie Gavin as a relative newcomer gave a very convincing performance in he role as Lou, if at times reminiscent of Bianca from EastEnders (not just the hair colour). Polly Taylor also played her role really well as she maintained that 'WAG-like' persona on the outside, yet at times we were able to see her vulnerability and her relationship with money and her father, the two of which meet in the final episode, when her actions show the control money has over her family.
Having only seen Pippa Haywood as the scatty Mrs Brittas in The Brittas Empire I felt her performance, whilst at times an exaggerated version of Mrs Brittas, was extremely engaging and the love for her son was unquestionable. At moments of breakdown we really empathised with her and saw how her son being locked away was affecting her and she seems to really come to life when she takes over responsibility of Lou's son and a certain vicar!
And finally Emma Rigby, who surely has a BAFTA for 'Best Actress' coming her way later on in the year for her incredibly emotional performance as Gemma in particular in the final episode. The versatility of Emma Rigby as an actress really came across as she was able to separate herself away from Hannah, the character she played in Hollyoaks for several years. Looking over several tweets about the series, time and time again, the brilliance of her acting is highlighted as a reason to watch this series. Her performance were flawless, believable and at times very heart-breaking to watch, as we really got a feel for how having a loved one inside can change a person, which ultimately I feel was the main underlying theme in the series.
Talking of BAFTAs, surely Prisoners' Wives is a deserved winner in the 'Best Drama Series' category, or at the very least a National Television Award?
There is no official word on a second series but having done some research it does appear that at the very least Julia Gearey is currently writing a second series. Hopefully Tiger Aspect and the BBC won't leave it too long to (hopefully) announce a return for a new series. Without giving too much away in terms of how the first series ended, I'd be interested to see how the characters move on with the decisions made at the end of the final episode and how life may be different for the 'families' in light of recent revelations.