Partially based on ex-prison officer Ronnie Thompson’s novel of the same name, Screwed centers on Sam Norwood (James D’Arcy), a former frontline soldier who finds himself working as a prison officer in one of Britian’s most deplorable insitutions. As the harsh realities of being a prison ‘screw’ take there toll, Sam finds solace in booze, drugs and prostitues, rejecting his family and slowly embroiling in a life he could never have imagined.
Director Reg Traviss and screenwriter Colin Butts try hard to inject verve and orginality into Screwed, most noticeably in the way Traviss eerily presents the drama from the ‘screws’ point of view and in Butts’ deft approach to Sam’s character. While these aspects are refreshing to see and make for a solid setup, the fact both Traviss and Butts revert all too easily back to the cliches and contivances of a typical prison drama – shoddy dialogue and over-the-top violence in particular – simply accentuates their overriding inability to carry things through and make Screwed an all together different experience.
It’s a welcome relief, then, that the cast are on top form. Clarke is suitably intimidating as head kingpin Truman, but unfortunately suffers from an underwhelming lack of presence and Butts’ discreditable lines. D’Arcy, on the other hand, steals the show in every scene, suitably conveying Sam’s fierce nature and difficulty adjusting to life away from Iraq. Frank Harper and Kate Magowan stand out as head ‘screw’ Deano and Sam’s discarded wife Danielle, respectively, among the adequate yet ashamedly squandered supporting cast.
No matter how hard it tries, Screwed can’t escape the shadows of the very best prison dramas it’s trying to emulate. Overstated, sleazy and cliche-ridden, it foolishly wastes a mostly reliable cast and tarnishes Thompson’s source material.