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Prisoner review – this brutal Danish drama grabs you by the scruff of the neck and won’t let go
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Prisoner review – this brutal Danish drama grabs you by the scruff of the neck and won’t let go


The show Prisoner immediately immerses viewers into the action, wasting no time in building up to the main plot. It presents a prison riot as a way to introduce the characters and reveal that there is more going on than meets the eye. The show respects its audience’s intelligence, introducing multiple characters and revealing bits of the plot slowly to keep them engaged. The result is a mature and captivating drama that explores the intricacies of the modern Danish prison system. Don’t be put off by the setting – as shown by Borgen, the Danes excel at transforming bureaucratic topics into thrilling entertainment. Trust me, it’s worth watching.

Sofie Gråbøl, known for her role in The Killing, is one of the main actors in this ensemble. The story revolves around four prison officers who have different approaches to their job. Gråbøl plays Miriam, a by-the-book officer who also shows some compassion towards the inmates. While the uniform allows for optional accessories, she chooses to wear a tie. Sammi (played by Youssef Wayne Hvidtfeldt) also wears a tie, as we see him on his first shift as a prison officer. He appears to be the ideal recruit, explaining to his boss that he joined the force to make a positive impact in society.

In the first episode, we see things from Sammi’s perspective as he learns about the reality of life in prison. He is guided by Henrik, played by David Dencik (known for his role as Gorbachev in Chernobyl), an experienced inmate who values a peaceful existence. Henrik reveals how the rules are manipulated for the convenience of the officers, such as making noise with their keys to give warning and turning a blind eye to contraband like tennis balls filled with hash. According to Henrik, this helps maintain a sense of calm among the inmates. With the leader of the prison being a gang member named Panik, who has the support of his family members also serving time, it’s understandable why Henrik sees things this way.

As the new prison governor, Gert brings a sharper focus to the challenges faced at the prison. She admires Sammi’s idealism but knows that it may not lead to tangible results. Gert understands the complexity of the prison ecosystem and anticipates that it will become even more chaotic. The prison is understaffed and strained, and it’s evident that power dynamics between inmates and officers can shift day by day. Off the record, Gert informs the officers that the government plans to build a new prison, update two others to meet EU standards, and to fund this, one prison will be closed. This puts their prison at risk and prompts the arrival of inspectors to monitor operations. A new zero-tolerance policy is set to be implemented, which will only add fuel to an already tense situation.

Prison stories typically follow similar patterns, and those familiar with them will recognize the plot, although there are unique Danish aspects that add interest. Time plays a role in this story, as Helge, a wealthy white-collar criminal, must navigate survival among the gangs upon his arrival. Miriam suggests paying for protection, but he questions why it is not the officers’ responsibility to protect them. The officers also struggle with personal issues, such as Henrik facing strain in his home life, and Miriam’s estranged son Asger, a former addict, suddenly needing a large sum of money urgently.

It is reasonable to assume that the situation will not have a positive outcome. The living conditions are harsh for everyone involved, and the threat is tangible. The foreboding, monotonous background music hints at the fragility of the “coexistence” between the officers and inmates, which is on the verge of collapsing. Even the smallest details are disturbing: Sammi is warned not to reach into dark corners because inmates often hide weapons there to resist cell searches. Both officers and prisoners are injured, and violence is a constant reality, depicted in all its brutality. However, the story does not present a simplistic tale of good versus evil. Instead, everyone is struggling to survive in their own way. This drama is gritty, dark, and rainy, filled with tension and gripping until the very end.

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The show “Prisoner” was recently broadcasted on BBC Four and is currently available on iPlayer.

Source: theguardian.com