Forget lockdown. For Sean Bean, it’s more a case of locked up in an unsparing prison drama that confronts a British penal system failing both its inmates and the society it is supposed to protect. Three-part series Time is a sometimes brutal – and, according to old hands, brutally authentic – look at existence behind bars. And such authenticity will be no surprise to anyone familiar with the works of its writer, Jimmy McGovern, whose “previous” includes such creations as Cracker , Broken and Accused . Bean, a familiar face from any number of blockbuster films and television shows you might have heard of – GoldenEye , Sharpe , The Martian , Game of Thrones among them – is also a bellowing, sword-slinging salesman in a current TV advertisement that makes tea-drinking look terrifying. It plays up to his regular hard-man image and seems like perfect practice for playing a convict. Which is where Bean subverts convention as Mark Cobden, a meek and mild teacher jailed for four years, whose life experiences thus far prove useless in coping with the career criminals and psychopaths suddenly surrounding him. Singled out for verbal and physical abuse, Cobden is intimidated and adrift. Did the character and his incarceration remain with Bean post-filming? “Not really – I think I woke up in the middle of the night screaming about being in the hotel,” he jokes. “And a window blew out in a storm; I think I’d have been better off in the cell, because it was a bit more comfortable than the place where we were staying! “I was OK; it was a lot of fun, actually: a load of fellas together every day and we had quite a laugh really, gallows humour, because the subject matter was so shocking and depressing and hard to stomach sometimes; we tried to keep our spirits up. We had a great bunch of lads, some great supporting actors.” Which of Hollywood’s 27 biggest movie franchises did the critics like best? As the details of Cobden’s offence emerge he earns the respect of prison officer Eric McNally (Stephen Graham); and although their stories are largely tangential it is clear that neither belongs in a so-called correctional system to which prisoners, some with severe mental-health problems, return repeatedly. “I didn’t find it that depressing – even though I was supposed to be depressed and scared – because we knew we could just get in the car and leave any time,” says Bean. “And you’re so focused on what you’re doing that you don’t really have much time to think about it. We stayed in the cells with a radio and things, so I felt quite at home, but yes – you could always open the door and go out, not like the guys inside for real.” If Time looks like it was shot in a genuinely grim Victorian penitentiary, it was: the now disused Her Majesty’s Prison Shrewsbury, whose history is peppered with executions and suicides. All of which chimes with McGovern’s trademark determination to confront life’s ugly truths. “Jimmy’s writing is just extraordinary, he’s brilliant,” says Bean. “He knows what people are; he puts ordinary people into extraordinary situations and that’s what’s so fascinating for me. I just love his enthusiasm and the way he writes the characters. I’m blown away by his work. “He’s a fascinating character. He comes on set now and again and he’s very well respected, of course. He’s a very ordinary guy in a sense, but an extraordinary writer.” Along the path McGovern lays out for him, does Cobden achieve any sort of redemption? “I think he does,” says Bean. “He’s trying; he’s open to the idea of changing his attitude. He wants to live a good life and there’s so much to be said for that. He doesn’t want to have secrets. [When convicted] his marriage was falling apart, his young lad didn’t really know what was going on and he was hardly a father figure to him. “He believes there’s an opportunity for atonement,” he adds. “He feels as though he has a lot to offer and he knows he’s on the right track. It’s something he’s been searching for all his life.” Time is available from August 6 on demand from BBC First, via Now TV and myTV Super.