Prisoner Huset photo

Prison dramas are nothing new, but there’s always room for a good one, and Danish series Prisoner, on MHz Choice, is as compelling as it gets. The first episode introduces us to the main characters as well as life inside the prison. It’s Sammi’s (Youssef Wayne Hvidtfeldt) first day. He is fresh out of training: green, idealistic, a rule follower, and as we will see, ambitious. He is paired with Henrik (David Dencik), a jaded veteran who teaches a disapproving Sammi the off-book secrets to maintaining a peaceful prison population. Miriam (Sofie Gråbøl) is a veteran guard who is also a rule follower, and is glad to see a kindred spirit in Sammi. Gert (Charlotte Fich) is the warden who is on board with Henrik’s philosophy of turning a blind eye to inconvenient truths. When the prison is flagged for government inspection, requiring the guards to actually enforce the rules, the veneer of civility comes off.

For another high-quality prison drama see our review of Time.

Drama at Work

The way to keep a prison population calm, according to Henrik, is to allow them to have their drugs. To do so, the guards employ tactics such as jingling their keys to give the inmates time to hide their contraband before their cells are inspected, looking away as tennis balls full of hash are lobbed over the wall, and hanging blinds in their office so they don’t have to watch the prisoners hanging out. Although Miriam disagrees with this approach, she toes the line, with Gert telling her “not to rock the boat”. As you would assume, there is tension between Miriam and Henrik. While Sammi jumps fully on board with the new rules and shakedowns required by the prison inspectors, Gert, Henrik and even Miriam are wary of how these will affect the carefully constructed détente between the resident white supremacist and Muslim gangs.

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Drama at Home

Meanwhile, the guards’ personal lives are no less taxing. Miriam has an addict son who is in recovery. He comes around to tell her he’s clean, that she’s going to be a grandma, and then drops the bomb that he needs $15,000 to pay off a debt. Gert’s husband has vascular dementia, and she is struggling to keep him safe at home, but feels guilty about putting him in a facility. Henrik, his wife, and son are bunking in a small motorhome while their house gets mold remediation. Unfortunately, the insurance company is fighting the claim. And Sammi foolishly begins a sexual relationship with another guard. Better than an inmate, at least.

Click here to see what else we recommend on MHz Choice.

Our Take on Prisoner

I’m not the first critic to say that there is a pervasive feeling of doom in Prisoner. Characters make bad decisions, and others simply behave badly. As the guards are forced to find contraband and backtrack on old alliances with the inmates, the peace that was so carefully constructed unravels. The performances are fantastic, especially David Dencik, who manages to carve out some likability for an otherwise loathsome character. The look of the series is gritty, using hand-held camerawork when it makes sense, like running toward a prison fight. Some have complained that Prisoner is not realistic, but I don’t mind that. I couldn’t stop watching.

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