by Kate Diamond
Gemma has the perfect life. She lives in a nice house with a built in garage and a pillar outside. She cooks courgettes for dinner. She’s pregnant and her other half buys her expensive gifts, tells her to give up work and says things like ‘I’m your dream ticket’. Imagine.
Then suddenly he has a red laser dot on his forehead, the police are kicking the door in (good job they have that pillar holding the house up), there’s a young man’s body in a pub car park and they can place Steve at the scene. You can tell by how snotty Gemma’s nose gets that she genuinely knew nothing about it. One denied bail application later and bam, that’s how you become a prisoner’s wife.
The gaggle of women and kids outside HMP Highcross are laughing it up like they’re on a daytrip to Alton Towers. Gemma gets all flustered, presumably because she’s never read the news stories about prison being a holiday camp, so she bangs on a random car window for directions and it’s only bloody Mrs Brittas! (Actress Pippa Haywood).
Sadly, before anyone can say Gordon, she’s off and it’s time to meet the other PWAGs.
Fran wears Louboutins, speaks fluent banter and gets thrown out of visiting hour for treating her husband to a Basic Instinct in the family room. She lives in a giant house. She drinks wine for lunch. She buys boxes of fancy M&S biscuits and serves them on plates. She is constantly soundtracked by appropriate music: Halo. No Ordinary Love. I’m Every Woman. She’s hard as nails, but her teenage kids hate her. Sharon Stone never had to put up with this shit.
Lou is the anti-Fran. She deals drugs and lives in a tower block, where there is no evidence to suggest she owns any Beyoncé albums. Or a hairbrush.
She takes her little boy on his first visit to daddy’s prison under the elaborately shambolic ruse that Shaun is working on a top secret project to build the Blades a new football stadium “bigger than Wembley”. Mason is about 7- old enough to know that Bramall Lane’s 32k capacity is more than adequate for a languishing League One club.
Gemma doesn’t fit in at prison. And, as if constantly rubbing her pregnant belly isn’t enough to garner viewer sympathy, she next visits a grubby terrace and unveils Aunty Donna, her former foster mum. Hiding the shameful truth, Gemma instead gets all snobby about her fella owning his own business and how they’ve “just bought a house the Cavendish Estate”. Aunty Donna refrains from responding “what, those houses with the twatty pillars?”
Patience of saints, these state certified caregivers.
Though Donna’s parenting talents really shine through when she later says to one of her 5 year old charges: “look, it’s your favourite!” while plonking her in front of a tv blasting out Sum 41′s In Too Deep. How many real mums can boast such comprehensive knowledge of the Canadian rock preferences of their kids?
Back at home, our Gem sorts CDs and gets all excited about the opening bars of Sex On Fire, before spotting the wardrobe and getting all sad over a load of empty coat hangers. Which, presumably, once contained Steve’s clothes. Not sure what happened to them as every time we see him he’s wearing regulation grey tracksuit and netball vest combo.
She then gets a nasty visit from a detective who shouts “did he wash his shoes?” at her a lot. Later her boss, who read all about ‘Man held in gun death probe’ in the local rag, comes over to offer sympathy and aubergine lasagne. He then proceeds to sleaze up to her so hard in the front garden that Gemma is forced to wake up in the middle of the night and throw up into a wok. Big day.
Indeed, from this initial insight, it’s obvious a prisoner’s wife’s work is never done. Will Sheffield United get their super stadium? Does Fran have any Gaga? Most importantly, what the hell was Mrs Brittas doing in that car? You’ll have to tune in next week to find out. Or alternatively, you may wish to spend that hour searching your abandoned caravan for your other half’s secret firearms stash.
Spoiler: they’re in the biscuit tin.
Prisoners’ Wives is on BBC1, Tuesdays at 9pm. You can catch up on iPlayer here