BBC1 screenwriter Jimmy McGovern explains how Warrington plays a role in his work
TV screenwriter Jimmy McGovern, the man behind the hard-hitting new prison drama Time, has revealed he puts most of his drama in Warrington.
McGovern, who is the originator of legendary television shows such as Cracker, Moving on and Accused, is one of the UK’s most respected television writers and is known for his lifelike portrayals of life in the North.
But while he is from Liverpool and some of his most famous works have clearly been staged there or in Manchester, he revealed that he had only one idea in mind when he set out to write. his shows.
“About Warrington,” that’s how he put it when he was interviewed ahead of Time’s Sunday night airing.
The series stars Sean Bean as Mark Cobden, a teacher convicted of killing a man while driving while intoxicated, and Stephen Graham as prison warden Eric McNally. It takes place in a fictitious prison in the north.
And in an interview with The Times ahead of Time – which stars Sean Bean and Stephen Graham – he described how, as a kid, “all the tough boys were talking about Risley Prison in Warrington.”
“I’m always on the lookout for stories,” he said, “and the thing with a British prison is it’s full of stories.”
McGovern’s highly anticipated new three-part BBC One drama Time, Time, centers on life within the UK criminal justice system and the moral dilemmas faced by those who live and work there.
“I really think I’ve been working on it since the 80s,” notes the 71-year-old of his origins.
“From around 1982, I did a lot of prison work; I was still there and I did writing workshops and I came out again.
“I’ve always been fascinated by it; I think the main reason was I always felt like “There, but for the grace of God, go,” you know? Because I was young and skinny too once, and did some naughty things. “
Actor Sean Bean, 62, best known for his role as Ned Stark in Game Of Thrones, plays recently jailed Mark Cobden, a man consumed with guilt after killing an innocent man in an accident.
Welcoming his four-year sentence as an act of penance, Bean’s character finds himself interacting with principle prison officer Eric McNally, played by Stephen Graham of Line Of Duty.
“I’ve always thought of those two,” says McGovern, of the actors he was considering playing as Mark and Eric.
“I just think they have faces you would die for, you know?” Full of life and full of compassion and humanity.
“And I think if you’re going to write about a UK prison that’s the kind of thing you need. Compassion, humanity, experience – and it’s all in the lines of these faces. “
With a solid background in filming his dramas in the Northwest, “about Warrington” as McGovern puts it, the Liverpudlian writer says he often finds himself in a moral dilemma when it comes to his hometown.
Noting that the “negative stereotype” associated with Liverpool regularly poses “a major problem for Scouse writers,” McGovern says he would have worked with Graham earlier, without the actor’s own Nordic roots.
“This is a story I discovered some time ago in an episode of Accused,” said McGovern thoughtfully.
“There was a part – it was a cab driver taking a girl to the airport and coming back and robbing her house – and it was absolutely perfect for Stephen Graham.
“I said, ‘We can’t have Stephen. We cannot have a Scouser playing the burglar because of the negative stereotype attached to the city.
“And yet, at the same time, you want work in the city, because those are fairly well paying jobs.
The writer says it’s a situation that is “always awkward” and leaves creators “wide open to accusations of not giving Scouse actors jobs in Scouse dramas.”
“It’s strange, because Cracker took place in Manchester,” McGovern continues. “And it was full of psychopaths, you know, real weirdos, and nobody in Manchester complained, because that doesn’t face the negative stereotype.”
Doing Time saw Graham enter the walls of a working prison to learn the ropes. The actor found himself following an active prison officer, absorbing the nuances of everyday life and honing his routines as he went.
“I soaked it up like a sponge,” says Graham, 47, his excitement palpable.
“We were at the prison and I met this lovely boy who had been a prison guard for 25 years.
“I was gone with him for about two and a half hours and I came back – and you know how much you want to impress your soccer manager, and you come back to show him what you did?”
“I have keys and I said ‘Come here, come here’,” he said with a smile. “And I could see he was very excited. It was really like a child and his father.
“What he missed at the end of this story,” intervenes director Lewis Arnold, “was actually he lifted the keys and grabbed them from his belt. He was showing off and it was working, and I could see him trying to do it.
“He never did it again. “
Directed by Arnold, the directorial talent behind the hit series Humans and Cleaning Up, Time also stars This Is England actress Hannah Walters as the prison guard’s wife.
According to the director, the on-screen couple brought an “infectious” energy to the production, noting that sometimes he had to tell the couple to “hold back” when it came to particular scenes, because of the chemistry. .
That’s something that really makes sense when you find out that Walters is Graham’s off-screen partner as well, with Arnold noting that his decision to audition was “a bit risky.”
“I mean, imagine if everyone came out saying ‘There’s no chemistry between them’,” the director laughs.
“I remember their first scene together was in a hospital room and they both laughed for centuries until they realized the serious nature of the scene.
“They’re amazing, they turned it on instantly, but their chemistry is just contagious.”
– Time is broadcast weekly on BBC One from Sunday June 6.