‘Time’ creator Jimmy McGovern: From BAFTAs to Emmys?

Britbox’s flagship drama “Time” is in with a fighting chance at the Emmys this year, potentially giving the upstart streamer its first high-profile success with Emmy voters.

The three-part limited series was created and written by Jimmy McGovern (“Cracker”) and directed by Lewis Arnold (“Broadchurch”), starring Sean Bean (“Game of Thrones”) and Stephen Graham (“Line of Duty,” “Boardwalk Empire”). The series follows family man Mark Cobden (Bean), who is sentenced to four years in prison after accidentally killing a man. Consumed by guilt for his crime, Mark is confronted with navigating his terrifying new life as an inmate, and soon meets Eric McNally (Graham), an upstanding prison officer, who lives to protect the inmates against the odds in an understaffed and volatile modern British penal system. Both Mark and Eric soon come up against one of the most dangerous inmates in the prison, forcing them to make life-or-death choices between principle and survival. After its original airing on the BBC last summer across the pond, the series premiered stateside last fall on up-and-coming streaming service Britbox. The national broadcaster recently announced that the show is expanding as an anthology series, with McGovern back as writer, and the second three-episode series set in a women’s prison starring a brand new cast.

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This year, the Best Limited Series/TV Movie categories are undeniably crowded with top-notch contenders jostling for attention, like “Dopesick,” “The White Lotus,” “Maid,” “The Dropout,” “Station Eleven,” “Dr. Death,” “The First Lady,” “Under the Banner of Heaven,” “The Staircase,” “Impeachment,” “Midnight Mass” and “Scenes From a Marriage.” So that begs the question. Can a grim British co-production break through all the clutter for some Emmy love? The answer is yes, if favorable critics’ reviews and accolades mean anything.

“Time” has a staggering 100% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, indicating a rare unanimous seal of approval from TV critics. TV critic Lucy Mangan (Guardian) raves that the “performances of Bean and Graham are, even though we have come to expect brilliance from them both, astonishing. So, too, are those from everyone in smaller roles, none of which is underwritten or sketchy, and who thicken the drama into something more profoundly moving and enraging at every turn,” while Graeme Blundell (The Australian) declares the series “is relentless, unnerving and urgent storytelling, TV drama that matters.”

“Time” has already proven itself with awards voters, with its strong showing at the BAFTAs last month, winning Best Mini-Series (triumphing over the likes of HBO’s “It’s a Sin” and “Landscapers”), Bean winning the coveted Best Actor prize and Graham nominated for Best Supporting Actor (bested on the night by Matthew Macfadyen from “Succession”). The series also scored three nominations at the BAFTA Craft Awards held a week prior in April, with Arnold nominated for Best Director: Fiction and nominations for Best Scripted Casting and Best Photography and Lighting: Fiction. It’s a triumphant return to prestige television for McGovern, whose impressive track record for writing quality programming that addresses timely social issues, includes acclaimed nineties crime drama “Cracker” (starring Robbie Coltrane) and the International Emmy Award-winning “The Street” (its all-star cast including Timothy Spall, Jim Broadbent, Jane Horrocks, Bob Hoskins and David Thewlis).

Emmy voters aren’t averse to honoring series set in the murky, morally-bankrupt world of the prison-industrial complex. HBO’s trail-blazing “Oz” nabbed a couple of nominations in 1999 (for guest actor Charles S. Dutton and for casting), Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” garnered 16 Emmy nominations and four wins during its run, and more recently, limited series “Escape at Dannemora” scored six nominations in 2019, including for Best Limited Series.

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