Locked up review – yellow is the new orange in this women-in-prison drama
|Maggie Civantos as Macarena in Locked Up
It’s gripping and gritty, but by far the most menacing thing about this show is the Spanish swearing.
A blond woman in a high-rise apartment removes a bright yellow canary from a cage, opens the window and sets it free. In the voiceover – and subtitles – the woman is on the phone telling her mother she’s going away on a lovely sailing trip. But really, she’s going to jail. Welcome to Locked Up, Channel 4’s new Spanish prison drama. If the thing with the canary and the cage was too subtle for you, it transpires that the uniforms at Cruz del Sur correctional facility are also bright yellow. Yellow, it seems, is the new orange.
It would be fair to say that Locked Up (in Spain it’s called Vis a Vis) owes a debt to Orange Is the New Black, although women-in-prison melodrama counts as a whole genre, with its own narrative tropes. Where OITNB is darkly comic, this is largely straightfaced, and unafraid to embrace the gratuitous toplessness that has long been a mainstay cliche of women-in-prison films. Unless there’s a good reason a conversation can’t take place in the showers, it does.
Macarena (Maggie Civantos) is evidently unprepared for the rigours of prison; she has packed an elastic exercise band, and royal jelly. She insists she is there by mistake. Within 48 hours of her arriving, her bunkmate is found murdered – steamed alive, in fact. She still doesn’t know the good guys from the bad guys among the guards. I’m not sure there are any good guys.
There are flashbacks to Macarena’s pampered former life – it’s pretty obvious her boss/boyfriend has contributed to her incarceration – which fall a little flat. Once you’ve set a story in a prison, everything that happens outside begins to seem incidental. I think that might be true of actual prison as well.
Locked Up looks great, with most scenes drained of every colour except that acid yellow – the uniforms almost glow. And it is both gripping and gritty, although by far the most menacing thing about it is that it’s in Spanish. The swearing sounds much worse than the words that appear in the subtitles. The sense of alienation is only heightened by Locked Up’s foreignness: the violence; the casual wear the guards walk around in; the idea that your cellmate might keep a pet scorpion. I have no idea which bits are realistic and which bits are preposterous, so I just believe it all.