Prisoners’ Wives 2, BBC1, with Polly Walker, Pippa Haywood, Karla Crome, Iain Glen PREVIEW

Sally Carman, Polly Walker, Karla Crome and Pippa Haywood, Prisoners' Wives BBC
Frisky business for Kim, Francesca, Aisling and Harriet. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC1: Thursday, 14 March, 9pm

Story: Francesca, her dad and her two children are nearly burned to death in an arson attack organised by a rival of her imprisoned husband’s. Harriet and her son embark on new spiritual paths, and two new women appear at visiting time – Kim, the respectable wife of a man accused of child abuse, and Aisling, the gutsy teenage daughter of a repeat offender.

The first series didn’t attract much of a fanfare when it went out around this time last year, but that compelling drama about four very different women coping with their men being behind bars attracted a solid audience of 5million and was quickly recommissioned by BBC1.

Season 2 has some new faces and says goodbye to a couple of former characters. Gemma’s story, featuring Emma Rigby, reached a natural conclusion when she walked away from Steve (Jonas Armstrong). And Lou (Natalie Gavin), who lost her boy and ended up in jail herself, was too difficult to integrate in to the new storylines as well.

Sally Carman and Pippa Haywood in Prisoners' Wives BBC1
Kim meets Harriet in the visitor centre

Sally Carman and Karla Crome
In comes Kim (Shameless star Sally Carman) as the wife of an apparently respectable man who ends up inside after being accused of abusing a neighbour’s son. And Karla Crome, the young star seen recently in series such as Hit & Miss, Misfits and Lightfields, plays Aisling, the feisty daughter of roguish repeat offender Brendan (Owen Roe).

The series kicks off explosively when Francesca’s home on the estate, where she lives with her dad (David Bradley), is set alight by arsonists one night. She and her dad and two children escape, but the house is burnt out.

Gangster hubby Paul (Downton‘s Iain Glen) tells her it’s a turf war and she must help him to resolve it. Reluctantly she agrees to hand over a ‘peace offering’ of a cache of weapons to Pearson, Paul’s rival.

Horrific ordeal for Francesca

Iain Glen and Polly Walker, Prisoners' Wives BBC1
Paul and Fran after the arson attack

However, when Pearson insists Franny accompany him during the handover, the transaction turns into a horrific ordeal for her.

It’s a powerful opening episode, and Polly Walker as Francesca and Iain Glen are brilliant as the couple trying to hold things together despite her growing disillusion with life as a prisoner/gangster’s wife. She’s come a long way from the lavish lifestyle we saw her enjoying in series one.

Sweet but daffy Harriet (Pippa Haywood) is involved in a tender, if strained, relationship with the prison chaplain, while her floundering son, Gavin, is desperate to find strength in numbers with the Muslim prisoners.

Nicola Walker in Prisoners' Wives, BBC1
Nicola Walker as DCI Fontaine

Has Kim’s husband been fitted up for a sex crime?
Kim’s storyline is another emotionally strong one, with Mick, her husband (and father of their three boys), accused of a sex crime and locked up pending trial. Has he been set up by the dysfunctional family that live next door?

The cast is further boosted by Nicola Walker as the detective circling Franny and Paul, and Anne Reid turns up as the seedy, fag-smoking accountant that Paul lines up to help his wife.

The stories are based on real-life accounts, and the charity Partners of Prisoners helps to keep the scripts realistic.

Prisoners’ Wives may be a low-key success, but its fine cast and terrific, human interest stories make it one of the most compelling dramas around.

Cast: Sally Carman Kim Haines, Polly Walker Fran Miller, Karla Crome Aisling O’Connor, Pippa Haywood Harriet Allison, Ben Batt Danny, Tony Bell DS Hagen, Jorden Bennie Jaiden, David Bradley Frank, Sally Carman Kim Hall, Enzo Cilenti Mick, Paul David-Gough Chris, Phoebe Dynevor Lauren, Laura Frances-Morgan DS Sankey, Adam Gillen Gavin, Iain Glen Paul, Munir Khairdin Imam, Callum Lambert Jack, Joshua Lambert Charlie, Emma Matthews Vicky, Harry McEntire Matt, Jack Mitchell Reece, Osi Okerafor Ben Ballo, Chris Overton Blake Fenner, Gary Overton Stan, Anne Reid Margaret, Owen Roe Brendan, Nicola Walker DCI Jo Fontaine, Stuart Wolfenden Liam

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