Part of Glasgow’s historic Kelvin Hall was transformed into a three-storey set for the STV Studios show Screw, which launches on Channel 4 on 6 January.
Derry Girls favourite Jamie-Lee O’Donnell and Nina Sosanya, star of Killing Eve, His Dark Materials and W1A, lead the cast of the six-part series.
Set in fictional Long Marsh Prison, Screw has been created by Rob Williams, the writer behind the award-winning STV Studios drama The Victim, which starred Kelly Macdonald, John Hannah and James Harkness.The drama focuses on Sosanya’s character Leigh, a senior officer who has devoted her adult life to this prison and its troubled population, and O’Donnell’s street-smart trainee officer Rose.
Williams, who has written for Killing Eve, EastEnders, Doctors and Holby City, was inspired to create Screw after previously spending time teaching drawing and painting in prisons, and later doing voluntary work with inmates.He said: “It’s a world I’ve wanted to write about for a long time, but I needed to find a fresh way into it because there are so many prisoner-focused shows and books.
“I've met lots of officers and found myself not really thinking about them as individuals but as uniforms.
“They’re public servants, yet they’ve never really had their own TV show in the way that paramedics, firefighters and police have. I think a lot of prison officers do feel fairly ignored and even disliked.”
The production, described as an “uncensored, terrifying and often darkly funny reality of life as a prison officer in an all-male prison in 21st century Britain,” spent six months in Glasgow this year.
Williams added: “Everyone has been raving about the set. It's incredible.
"Midway through the shoot, we did some exterior shots in a different part of Scotland and I’m so glad we did because people were feeling very, very oppressed by that set.
“Even though Kelvin Hall is a huge space, you could tell people were feeling as though the walls were closing in a bit.”
Sosanya said: “It's a life-size replica of a prison wing, the sort that might have been built in the mid-19th century, where it’s about the railings and the steel steps.
“It was built over three levels within this huge hangar and goes around two corners. You're actually in this sort of living, breathing, breathing prison with 100 or so cells, most of which can open and lock. There are offices and pool tables, classrooms and a medical store.
"You'd be forgiven for thinking that the series is going to look claustrophobic or samey, but it's exactly the opposite because these three levels allow the camera to sweep from one place to another.”
O’Donnell said: “Every single time someone walked onto the set for the first time, you could see their jaw drop as they took in the vastness of it.
"You forget it's not a real building because it’s so well made and authentic – even the doors are really heavy. I slammed my finger in one of them on the last scene of the last day, which was pretty painful!”
Also in Screw's cast are Ron Donachie, who has played Ian Rankin’s detective John Rebus on stage and radio, Line of Duty and Bodyguard star Faraz Ayub, Stephen Wight, who starred in Manhunt and I Will Destroy You, and Detectorists star Laura Checkley.
Sosanya added: “There’s a motley crew of prison officers under Leigh’s beady eye and into that comes Rose.
"Because of the nature of prison life and the types of people drawn towards working there, everybody has a very different take on how prison should be run, how prisoners should be dealt with, and what rules are to be adhered to or broken. It’s a pressure cooker of personalities.
“She runs her wing like the captain of a ship, according to her own beliefs and rules, and doesn’t particularly trust anybody else to do the job as well as she can.
"She finds it easier to relate to the prisoners than the staff members, and this causes incidents."She's quite unpredictable and enigmatic, but she's compassionate and trying to do the best she can within a broken system.
“It (playing Leigh) opened my eyes to an area I was completely ignorant about. Prison is not something I think about, which goes to the heart of the whole problem.
“I spoke at length with a female officer who worked in the prison system for many years and the main thing is that they seem to have an extraordinary amount of courage and compassion.
"Every single day can be a volatile situation, so it takes a particular type of person to be able to stay. ”O’Donnell said: “The producers brought in some professional prison officers so we could find out what it’s like to work in a prison, and they were very honest with us.
“Two of the officers we spoke to were women and that was a big surprise, learning how many women work in men’s prisons.
"Although these were small women, they were obviously really confident and very powerful. It wasn’t the obvious image whenever you think of a prison officer.
"We learnt some basic techniques about how to defuse a physical situation, and also the respect that they have for the job, and the compassion they show for their colleagues and the prisoners. It added a lot of layers for me.”