October 28, 2021

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‘Condena’: a powerful prison drama on Movistar + amplified by Sean Bean

The screams and accusations at which police cars arrive at the prison serve as a small prelude to what we will see in the next three hours (episode). Through the character of Sean Bean (whom we currently see in ‘Snowpiercer: Snowbreaker’) we enter his own hell, in ‘Condena’ (his ‘Time’), a powerful BBC miniseries that we can see on Movistar+.

Bean is Mark Cobden, a professor with alcoholism problems who was sentenced to four years for hitting and killing someone while under the influence of alcohol. On the other hand we have the story of Eric McNelly (Stephen Graham), a veteran prison official who is suddenly faced with a huge moral dilemma.

On the one hand, Cobden’s storm of guilt; on the other, a spiral in which McNelly steps in to protect his son, who is serving his sentence in another prison.

Punished, punished

There’s a phrase, I think in the first episode, with the first visit from Cobden’s parents, that says “You’re here as punishment, not for that.” This adage perfectly defines the journey we’ll be on with his character and, to a lesser extent, Graham’s trip. That’s when the fact that guilt engulfs you implies that you deserve whatever happens to you.

The good pen McGovern defines his main character comprehensively and that takes place in an eloquently streamlined and more than grandiose dialogue. Using tropes of other genres, he also knows how to move: the story is tough and, despite having some particularly violent scenes, he doesn’t go above and beyond.

Knowing perfectly how to handle the timing and needs of the story it tells, the script avoids overexposure. For example, what happened that fateful night – something we see more often through the protagonist’s nightmares, but then we will have a pertinent flashback of – and with the four pains so well intertwined in our heads, the general picture of who is Cobden.

Interesting miniseries

This was helped by great performances from Sean Bean and Stephen Graham. The second is still a safe bet and a very fun acting class to watch. His own nightmares and questions about his principles are well anchored and he manages to be a wonderful complement to Cobden’s story.

While it may seem like it at first, McGovern isn’t interested in making the big picture of the prison system, corruption, violence, and everything that goes on there. Yes, there are other references to it, but ‘Condemnation’ wants us to consider whether there is room (or opportunity) for true redemption in the punishment regime.

In short, ‘Condena’ is an excellent miniseries that captivates from the very first minute, making us never stop seeing this world that McGovern has designed, thanks mainly to the excellent interpretations of its protagonists.