For those TV crime addicts forever screaming to see something different, you need look no further than the recent release of PRISONERS WIVES: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION, now on DVD from Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment.
Originally broadcast in the UK from 2012-2013, PRISONERS WIVES takes a thoroughly refreshing take on the effects of incarceration on those usually sloughed-off victims, the women who love/loved their felon significant others. That the show is mostly (and superbly) handled by women is another plus, as it goes in directions that our generally male mitts could never even imagine.
That said, don’t think this is a pretty-in-pink version of Brute Force; nuh-uh, it’s a rough show to watch, rife with shocking violence, conflicted emotions, sexual tension and a plethora of bad-choice repercussions.
The first season chronicles the drastic changes in the lives of four wives and/or paramours. Initially we meet the squeaky-clean, beautiful Gemma (Emma Rigby), happily wed to a super guy, Steve (Jonas Armstrong), co-partnered in a growing successful business; she’s also pregnant with their first child. Then Gemma’s world caves in. Steve is arrested for no less than murder, sent to the slammer whilst she is hounded by his Javert, DS Hunter (Andrew Tiernan), an obsessive cop intent on scraping the scab off hubby’s apparently not-so-innocent company. Gemma’s worst fears are realized once she discovers Hunter’s accusations are correct and her dream liaison turns into a nightmare. In a continual spiral downward, the terrified housewife uncovers some gruesome facts about Steve’s lifestyle. I would venture to say that only in a near all-female production would the narrative delve into the possibly worst situation a young mother-to-be could fathom. How about going into labor at a shopping mall and having your baby in a dingy rest-room stall? Wait, we’re not finished. She’s also been chased there by the hired assassin sanctioned by her husband to shut her up. The saving grace comes via a triumphant moment when the killer is embarrassed out of the latrine by the arrival of a gaggle of mean girls, who relentlessly verbally lambast him (with threats of gang violence).
Lou (Natalie Gavin) is the guilt-ridden spouse of Sean (Reuben Johnson). Guilt-ridden because she’s to blame for his jail time; in short, he’s taking the rap for her criminal faux pas. Lou is a drug-dealing sock-her mom, foul-mouthed and street tough – determined to sacrifice anything to ensure her and her young son’s safety. And to this personal pledge, she has, unfortunately, not learned her lesson, continuing to jeopardize all that is dear to her. Lou is pretty vile, and, like the other ladies in the show, has her existence rectified by her associating with the other wives, who, depending upon the situation, dole out advice/sisterhood aid and bitch-slapping with equal regularity.
Francesca is the woman who materially is all that. Brilliantly portrayed by Polly Walker, the drop-dead gorgeous sexual predator/terrorist from my favorite Jack Ryan movie, Patriot Games. Now matured (but no less ravishing), Walker’s Francesca is the mother of two grown children, living the affluent lifestyle that comes from being the wife of gangland kingpin Paul (the ubiquitous Iain Glen). Paul’s being in a maximum security lock-up doesn’t curtail his nefarious activities, as corruption plays both sides of the fence. His dealings cause Francesca and her family to lose everything and place them in mortal danger – a conundrum he promises his up-to-now loyal marriage partner is only temporary. So is breathing. Nevertheless their relationship does encompass one of the show’s genuinely hilarious sequences – a carefully organized taboo conjugal visit. It also displays the power of female power when Francesca and Gemma ensure a fellow mom’s fears by their mates protecting a weak link con.
And that brings us to the fourth lead (and, in my estimation, best character in the series), Harriet, terrifically played by the great Pippa Haywood.
Harriet is the poster child for spousal and family abuse. The needy survivor of a lousy marriage, she has pampered her namby-pamby, uncaring son Gavin (Adam Gillen) to the point of his using his widowed mom as a lamb to be slaughtered on a rotating basis. His arrest is almost inevitable, and his guilting his mum for all his woes is repugnant. But not as much so as one of the most revolting bits in the show. To guarantee his safety with newly acquired thug friends, he offers them drugs – to be smuggled in by his terrified mater. How can that happen in a max-security institution? He tells her to shove them up into her…well, we won’t go into graphic details except to use the ancient lady-part phrase “wound of woman.” That this is potentially lethal on both physical and legal levels means nada to this creep. In fact, once the deed is done, his ingratitude is prone to make viewers want to attack the screen.
Season Two introduces two new women. Kim (Sally Carman) is a self-loathing adulteress at wit’s end when her innocent instructor husband (Enzo Cilenti) is jailed for pedophilia. Aisling (Karla Crome) is the daughter of Brendan (Owen Roe), one of Paul’s henchmen (and sharing the same residence with his “boss”). Her loveless engagement is rocked by her uncontrollable yearning for Paul’s son (Harry McEntire). And it’s mutual.
Meanwhile, two holdovers from the first series, Harriet and Francesca, have their own dragons to slay. And it’s so cool to see them shed their submissive bonds and viciously fight for themselves, particularly the former, whose magnificent new “up yours” attitude is the scenario’s most rewarding transformation.
This 10-episode, 4-disc set is one of the unusual shows I’ve ever seen (and presented by Acorn in an excellent 16 x 9 transfer). At first, I wasn’t too keen on sifting through it, but I soon became totally engrossed in the events that transpired before me. The writing (by Chloe Moss, James Graham and series creator Julie Gearey) and direction (Damon Thomas, Harry Bradbeer) is aces, as is the top-notch production (from producers Gearey, Anna Ferguson, Roanna Benn, Greg Brenman, Christopher Aird, Abi Bach and Rebecca De Souza). The widescreen camerawork (by Davids Marsh and Odd) appropriately veers from lush to nitty-gritty, depending upon the “WIVE.” And the score (supervised by Steve Parr), with its insidiously addictive theme, will be bopping around in your head for days.
As indicated earlier, I liked this show a lot. Yet, this is small potatoes to the response from the females for whom I screened it; they LOVED it. Case in point, a rather demure lady pal of mine, asked if there was a third season. “Nope, that’s it,” I replied. To which she uncharacteristically responded with a bellowing “FUCK!”
And we’ll leave it at that.
PRISONERS WIVES: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION. Color. Widescreen [1.77:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]; 2.0 stereo-surround. Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment. CAT # AMP-2156. SRP: $59.99.