This week I got gifted to a free preview screening of this new prison drama starring Jack O’Connell. Eric (O’Connell) is a young offender with a real violence issue who is transferred for the first time to adult prison. He is prematurely transferred as the term ‘starred up’ means he has caused too much trouble for the juvenile prison to contain him. Things don’t go well to begin with at the new prison and then he runs into his father, Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), who is himself very quick to anger and has caused Eric some real emotional trauma in the past by being absent (presumably behind bars). An anger management counsellor, Oliver (Rupert Friend), tries to take Eric under his wing and begins to make real progress but Neville doesn’t like to think that someone is doing a better job with his son than he is and what follows is a gripping, gritty and important prison drama for our times.
In all the reviews I’ve read for the film so far the acting has been the main source of praise, and it’s hard to argue with that. O’Connell’s troubled youngster is so believable its hard to separate the actor from the character. A perfect example of the kind of kid that society has given up on. Mendelsohn is also brilliant, his Neville is short on brains and an obvious pointer to why Eric is the way he is, he’s made into a fully fleshed human being by Mendelsohn and is exactly the kind of character you imagine would exist in jail. The writing deserves commendation as well creating a simple plot that remains gripping throughout and really manages to gain an emotional attachment with the audience, it is only let down by an abrupt ending that seems a bit out of place and far-fetched, it’s as though they previously thought the ending didn’t have enough punch and ended up rushing an over dramatic set piece finish. That said it’s not enough to make you view the film as a lesser piece of work, this is one of the most complete British drama’s you will find at the cinema this year.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Starred Up would be a cheaply written, youth oriented prison drama for the Kidulthood generation but in reality this is a gripping, realistic portrayal that brings forward some important issues about our society. One of the very few great British dramas around, go and see it!
After the disappointing Hemlock Grove, that I couldn’t get into at all, Netflix bring us their third original drama in the form of Orange is the New Black. A prison drama that follows lead character, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), embarks on a 15 month sentence. It looks at how she copes inside as well as fleshing out a number of characters around her including prison inmates and those she’s left on the outside. Shortly after she arrives in prison her past catches up with her.
The show is a lot more hopeful and cheerful than most other prison dramas but that doesn’t mean it’s without it’s share of darkness. While at times the lives these women are allowed to live seems rather too pleasant for prisoners serving time there are plenty of moments that show how brutal their reality can be at times. What Orange… does best is showing the light and dark of the characters lifestyles and at the same time creates fully realised back stories and personalities for a large number of the characters without detracting from plot development or the lead characters personal journey. As the series progresses, in fact, I began to stop really routing for Piper and found that the other prisoners turned out to be much more well-rounded characters than her but that adds to the shows overall message and meaning that no ones better than anyone else. Put in this situation and stripped of all your worldly stuff we all end up acting in the same ways. It’s most interesting factor is this way in which it portrays every character in a very realistic manner and manages to pull it off with great writing and performances. That’s not to say, however, that it’s completely without fault there are elements of the show that don’t work so well, particularly with Jason Biggs’ character, Piper’s fiance, Larry I felt really didn’t add a huge amount to the show the sections that kept us up to date on his life seemed rather unnecessary. Also at times episodes felt over-long and in particular when they were comedic bits they were given far too much screen time and were rarely ever very funny.
Overall, though, Orange is the New Black is entertaining and at times gripping new TV show that brings a new look at prison life. Having been commissioned for its second season by Netflix before the first one was even released it’s clear that it’s creators must have more things up there sleeves and with the shocking and exciting ending of it’s first run will mean I’ll be ready and waiting for when that second season arrives.