Prisoners’ Wives Review: Time Well Spent

PRISONERS’ WIVES: Tuesday 30th January, 9PM, BBC1

It’s early evening and, deep in suburban Sheffield, a perfect housewife is chopping carrots into perfect circles in the kitchen of her perfect house. In comes her perfect husband who insists that she gives up work and looks after herself ready for the arrival of, what will surely be, their angelic child.

From the first 30 seconds of BBC drama, Prisoners’ Wives, it is clear that this domestic idyll is only being so rosily set up so that it can be smashed to pieces. Cue the domestic idyll being smashed to pieces. And so the Beeb’s latest drama about the lives of four women whose husbands have been jailed, kicks into full melodramatic swing. By the end of this first episode, there’s some serious emotional clout on display.

Events in this first episode centre around Gemma (former Hollyoaks hotty Emma Rigby) and her newly incarcerated husband, Steve. Aside from committing its own grievous bodily assault on Emma Rigby’s tear ducts, the show explores the confusion and betrayal felt by this young wife as she struggles to come to terms with her husband’s arrest for murder.

After initially refusing to believe her Steve (“he sells drinks… soft drinksâ€?) could be a killer, things take a turn for the worse for Gemma when she finds a gun stashed in his mum’s caravan. Can she still love a husband that lies to her face AND killed someone?

To her surprise, Gemma’s answer begins to emerge thanks to the other prisoners’ wives she encounters during visitors hours at Highcross prison. Rigby works wide-eyed innocence to great effect in her role as the traumatised Gemma. But after making initial contact with the audacious wife of a drug baron, Frannie (Golden Globe winner, Polly Walker) one gets the feeling that the little lamb may undergo a slight transformation. This lady is happy to publicly flash her ‘little Frannie’ for her husband’s viewing pleasure for heaven’s sake. “Speed boats, sawn-off shotguns – it was all really Ross Kempâ€?, oozes the drug baron’s well-manicured wife. But a tantalising hint at what’s underneath the bravado reveals a lonely woman waiting for the man she loves.

Teary breakdowns punctuate this first episode to an almost overwhelmingly extent but the performances from all four female leads, (Natalie Gavin and Pippa Haywood also star) are utterly absorbing. This is a hefty and well-crafted melodrama which should stand up to the rigours of the difficult subject matter it deals with.