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Time star Jodie Whittaker slams prison service for failing women: 'Surely there's a better system'

Doctor Who star Jodie Whittaker says her new role in BBC1's Time, playing a woman who loses everything after being sent to prison, shows the system is broken

Jodie Whittaker stars in BBC1's Time

Jodie Whittaker stars in BBC1's Time. Image: BBC / Sally Mais

Jodie Whittaker has hit out at the way the criminal justice system is failing women ahead of her role in series two of Time on BBC1.

The former Doctor Who star plays Orla O’Riordon – a woman who loses everything after being sent to prison for a non-violent crime. And in a new interview for The Big Issue, Whittaker said the drama, written by Jimmy McGovern and Helen Black, had opened her eyes to injustice and the way too many women are leaving prison into homelessness.

“The prison system pushes more people onto the streets,” said Whittaker. “All we hear are reports that prisons are on their knees. Surely there’s a better system.”

Tamara Lawrance, Jodie Whittaker and Bella Ramsey star in Time on BBC1
Tamara Lawrance, Jodie Whittaker and Bella Ramsey star in Time on BBC1. Image: BBC / Sally Mais

Series one of Time won a Bafta for Best Mini-Series while Sean Bean, who starred alongside Stephen Graham, won Best Actor. Only Happy Valley’s Siobhan Finneran, as prison chaplain Marie Louise, returns from the original cast as the action transfers to a women’s prison, with The Last of Us star Bella Ramsey and Tamara Lawrance (The Silent Twins) cast alongside Whittaker.

The series asks important questions about the criminal justice system and its impact on women. Whittaker admits that her research into women in the prison system fed directly into her performance in Time.

“What reading about this does, which is really good from an acting perspective, is it makes you so rageful you can tear into every scene full of rage and frustration,” she said.

In a wide-ranging interview, which also talks about the upcoming Doctor Who 60th anniversary and her return to work after maternity leave, Whittaker said: “We’re in a situation where 90% of the time, if a man has got an established home life, he can come straight back into it from prison. But for women that is not the case.

“Baroness Corston did a report years ago [in 2006] into women’s prisons. It said lots of women were put in prison for non-violent crimes and it was breaking families when these people aren’t a risk to society.

“Housing is a huge issue. So to put that woman in prison, take her away from her children and her home when at the end of it the system can’t afford to house her? What is the point of that destruction?”

Filming Time was also Jodie Whittaker’s first chance to work directly with Jimmy McGovern, one of her TV writing heroes.

“As someone from the north and from my generation, born in the 1980s, Jimmy McGovern is so important,” she said.

“He’s not just an important writer for us, but he is a political voice. And I feel as if my politics lean in the same direction.

“Even before I opened the script, they said Jimmy’s written it with Helen Black and it is going to be directed by Andrea Harkin. I was like, ‘I don’t really fucking need to read it, where do I sign?’ I had an instant response to it. Hearing that Bella and Tamara were attached to it? It was an absolute no-brainer.

“It’s a blessing and a curse when you are in something that has already been heralded. Series one of Time is one of the best things I’ve ever seen. So it’s terrifying shoes to fill. But I know more than anyone what that’s like to be part of something that’s already got the status and the adoring fandom after Doctor Who. Your hope is that your contribution to it earns its right to sit with the name of it…”

Time begins on BBC1 and iPlayer on Sunday 29 October

Read Jodie Whittaker’s full interview in The Big Issue magazine on sale from 30 October.

The Big Issue magazine exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work, buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today. Or give a gift subscription. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available from the App Store or Google Play.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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