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Raw And Redemptive: 'Time' By Jimmy Mcgovern

Author: Andy Drozdziak, CCR Web Editor

Picture: Andy Drozdziak

Raw And Redemptive: 'Time' By Jimmy Mcgovern

Violence, sacrifice and redemption: they are all present in Jimmy McGovern's compelling prison drama Time, says Andy Drozdziak.

Jimmy McGovern's  Time is a fine, multi-layered and realistic presentation of prison life. It is immediately gripping, and explores how a first-time offender adjusts to prison life. It also deals with themes of forgiveness, restoration and love for family. This last theme is particulalry explored through Stephen Graham's role as prison officer Eric Mcnally. 

Sean Bean plays Mark Cobden who, we discover, has killed someone through drink-driving. Being new to prison life, he is ill-prepared and is out of his depth, quickly finding himself a victim of bullying. Stephen Graham plays Eric Mcnally, an experienced and solid prison officer, whose son is serving a short spell in another prison.

Mcgovern resists the temptation to indulge in tired prison cliches, such as poor food and shower scenes. However, a constant undercurrent of violence is present, led by the disturbing and sadistic prisoner Jackson Jones, chillingly and brutally played by Brian McCardie.

This violence sometimes erupts, such as a disturbing scene when a prisoner has boiling water mixed with sugar thrown in his face. The screams traumatise Bean’s character, Mark-and, to some extent, the viewer. Stephen Graham’s assertion that the drama is “difficult to watch” rings true.

A Moral Dilemma

As Mark settles into a difficult and toxic atmosphere, Eric is suddenly presented with a difficult moral dilemma: a prisoner tells him he knows his son’s whereabouts, and Eric must help him if his son wants to be safe. Eric is forced to bring drugs and weapons into prison. When a former prisoner recognises him, the prisoner expresses disappointment that Eric has been corrupted, and this clearly wrankles with the experienced prison officer.

His reputation as an honest officer, built over 20 years hard work, has been compromised-but, it seems, he has no other option. It is classic Jimmy Mcgovern characterisation, placing characters in very difficult situations and calling for something more from them. Often, this will involve sacrifice.

Watch the trailer for Time  here:

Meanwhile, Mark adjusts to prison life: he stands up to the bully and, using his teaching skills, helps a fellow prisoner to read. However, his main desire is to be forgiven for his wretched crime, and he asks Mcnally if the dead man’s wife will receive a letter from him. Eric informs him she does not, and he is left to deal with the situation alone. Compassionate prison chaplain Marie-Louise, played by Siobhan Finneran, walks with Mark through his trial.

Moving Scenes Of Forgiveness

The theme of forgiveness emerges from this relationship. Many moving scenes take place in the prison chapel/prayer area, as prisoners share their trials and tribulations. The most moving of these takes place when Mark’s father, John, dies. Mark is due to deliver the eulogy at the funeral, but is unable to attend after his cell mate is caught with an illegal mobile phone in his cell. Mark is distraught, but it is at this point that Marie-Louise steps up.

Without missing a beat, she and Mark follow the funeral service themselves in the chapel. Marie-Louise explains, in very moving terms, the purpose of a Catholic funeral. Referring to the sprinkling of the coffin, she says: “With this water, we call to mind John’s baptism. As Christ went through the deep waters of death for us, so may he bring John to the fulness of the resurrection, and life with all the redeemed."

The Confiteor is shown being recited in its entirety, Mark joining Marie-Louise in acknowledging his own sin and placing his hand on his chest. The fact that it is shown being said slowly and prayerfully means that the words take on a depth and significance-in this case, redemption and forgiveness for Mark.

This will help show non-Catholics the purpose of the Confiteor-and the emphasis on needing, and receiving, God’s mercy. These merciful words of Jesus sprang to mind in considering this scene: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17). For Mcgovern, failure and regret are not the end of the story; there is always hope and possibility beyond the struggle.

Vulnerability, Honesty and God's Mercy

Mark’s journey of redemption continues, and it is well worth watching. Eric has to take some hard, costly decisions, which recall the sacrificial cost of discipleship and of fatherhood. Can we justify sinful actions if they serve a greater good? What is the best response when we are being threatened? Such questions are addressed head on, in typically robust style by Mcgovern.

The role and struggle of forgiveness is also powerfully explored, especially in the interaction between Mark and the wife of the man he killed. The performances by Bean, Graham and Finneran are powerful and convincing.  

Through a gripping storyline, it is suggested that redemption is possible-but it must come through vulnerability and honesty, and humility before the mercy of God. Marie-Louise draws out this honesty from Mark, especially in the funeral scene, and we can believe in a hopeful future as the drama ends.

Prison is an ideal setting for Mcgovern to deal with issues of regret, redemption and the power of the Catholic faith. If you are ready for realistic and powerful drama, set to a backdrop of suffering and difficult choices, it will be time well spent.

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