The Governor

1995 | United Kingdom

Another cracking series from Lynda La Plante who has always excelled in placing her female lead characters in what are perceived to be male dominated roles. 

In this case she really throws her heroine in at the deep end by placing her in a high-security men's prison. Following a riot and the apparent suicide of a child molester and murderer at HMP Barfield, 33-year old Helen Hewitt, an assistant Governor at a women's prison, finds herself seconded to the ensuing public enquiry into what sparked the violent disorder and the highly publicised death. When the enquiry returns a verdict of suicide, Helen is incensed, but unable to do anything. Until, that is, the relevant authority decide to retire Barfield's incumbent Governor and replace him with Helen. One of her first jobs is to meet and speak with the dead inmate's bereaved parents. During the interview she promises to carry out her own independent enquiry. She soon finds that she may have bitten off more than she can chew. 

On top of trying to keep order in a prison that hosts drug addicts, arsonists, violent murderers and the mentally disturbed, she also has to contend with prejudice from her own male-dominated staff, including an assistant governor who is bitterly aggrieved that he never got the top job himself. To add to her problems, as if they needed adding to, there also appears to be the cover up of a conspiracy. 

Although Helen is open minded and progressive in her approach to the way the penal system should work, she makes it quite clear from the outset that she is no pushover. But it is not without difficulty that she determines to stand her ground and stamp her authority on the uncompromising inmates as well as her staff who would take any and every opportunity to undermine her. As the series progresses, Helen has to tread the fine line between success and failure, dealing with a 60 million pound rebuild of the prison, the installation of an unpopular secure unit and her attempts to introduce educational staff for the prisoners.

Although made in 1995, The Governor stands up remarkably well against many modern TV series. Janet McTeer gives a thoroughly convincing and powerful performance facing up to the prisoners as well as manipulation from the Home Office, standing up to all and sundry with a fortitude of spirit and determined resolution. There are excellent supporting performances from the likes of Derek Martin, a former stuntman turned actor who later became best known as the head of the Slater family in EastEnders, as Charlie Slater - but here playing the embittered Deputy Governor, Gary Marshall. Craig Charles also turns up in later episodes as a prisoner, his role filmed not long after he was imprisoned himself on an unproven allegation of rape. The series has been released on DVD, and is a definite must for Linda La Plante fans. From an author who has given us some of TV's most powerful female leading characters, here she delivers Helen Hewitt, a woman more than capable of standing alongside some of La Plante's most formidable creations in a thought provoking and challenging drama.

Published on December 19th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.