REVIEW: Gifted Derry actor Jamie-Lee O’Donnell shines in Channel 4’s new prison drama Screw

Gifted Derry actor Jamie-Lee O’Donnell excels alongside Nina Sosanaya in Channel 4’s new prison drama ‘Screw’ which debuted on Channel 4 last night.

By Brendan McDaid
Friday, 7th January 2022, 11:47 am

Despite the global popularity of her Derry Girls’ iconic character Michelle, in Channel 4’s new prison drama ‘Screw’ Jamie-Lee O’Donnell proves her versatility with a brilliant performance as rookie prison guard Rose Gill.

The Derry actor stars in Rob William’s new drama and shares top billing with Nina Sosanya, who similarly excels as enigmatic wing boss Leigh, with the first episode having aired on Channel 4 last night and the full series now on All4.

O’Donnell’s turn as a trainee officer from the north of England struggling to find her place among the veterans and the inmates with little to no training at Long Marsh Prison is perfectly executed.

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Jamie-Lee O'Donnell stars in Screw.

The drama, by turns poignant and darkly comic, hones in on the complexities and challenges of life inside prison and doesn’t shy away from taking on real life topics, touching of mental illness, prejudice, racism, sexism, poverty and violence.

The characters we encounter, even those who appear only briefly on screen, are presented as complex individuals with very different life experiences and back stories. Character driven, Screw is an intensely human drama that manages to offer something original and fresh that sets it apart from the many other prison TV series of yesteryear.

That’s largely down to the brilliant staging, stellar casting and acting.

And the drama has struck a chord with expert critics and audiences alike, notching up an approval rating among Google users of 86%.

Many of the critics hone in on the performances of O’Donnell, Sosanya and the rest of the cast, which includes Line Of Duty’s Faraz Ayub, Stephen Wight, Game of Thrones’ Ron Donachie and Laura Checkley.

The Guardian’s Rebecca Nicholson said Screw “settles somewhere between soap and Sunday night blockbuster, and I mean that as a compliment. This is broad and warm and welcoming, with enough of a sharp side to make it worth sticking with.”

National World’s Alex Morland states: “A lot of the interest in Screw has come from curiosity about how the Derry Girls star will fare in one of her first mainstream dramatic roles; it doesn’t take long to see that O’Donnell is very good in this role.”

The Metro’s Sabrina Barr was similarly full of praise for O’Donnell: “Not that this was ever in doubt, but Screw further proves Jamie-Lee’s versatility as an actress, having shone as the straight-talking Michelle in Derry Girls. With the 1990s sitcom shortly coming to an end, it’s thrilling to see Screw highlight her talent in a new environment.”

With the third and final series of Derry Girls set to air over the coming months, and with the cast of that Channel4 and Netflix show including fellow Derry actor Saoirse Monica Jackson and Bridgerton star Nicola Coughlan making waves on stage and on screen elsewhere, the future looks very bright indeed for the talented cast of Lisa McGee’s comedy drama which has put our city on the map.

Episode 2 airs on Thursday, January 13 2022 at 9pm on Channel 4.