Created by Catherine Tate, ‘Hard Cell’ is a British comedy-drama TV series on Netflix. In mockumentary style, it chronicles life at HMP Woldsley, a women’s prison run by Governor Laura Willis and her assistant Dean. To encourage the inmates creatively, Laura proposes organizing a musical and invites former soap opera star Cheryl Fergison to direct it. Despite several hurdles, the quirky women navigate life behind bars while escaping their past demons, and come together to put up the show of a lifetime.
The show presents a satirical take on the prison system with its rib-tickling narrative, distinct characters, and commendable cast performances. Moreover, it authentically touches upon the struggles and injustices faced by women as well as the ways in which they uplift each other. All this makes the audience wonder whether ‘Hard Cell’ is inspired by real events and people. Now, let’s find out if that is the case, shall we?
Is Hard Cell a True Story?
No, ‘Hard Cell’ is not based on a true story. It is rather based on creator Catherine Tate’s observations of the faulty prison system in Britain and the charities that organize talent shows and theater productions in prisons. In an April 2022 interview, she shared, “This idea started from my awareness of charities and theatre companies that go into prisons and do shows like this with great success…So I wanted to do the fictitious version of it.”
In addition, Catherine divulged that actress Cheryl Fergison, who plays herself on the show, visits prisons in real life to help ex-offenders and organize stage musicals similar to the one depicted on-screen. She added, “In prison, inmates create their own families, networks, and communities, and they have highs and lows, plus loves and fights, so it was nice to show how our prisoners start to bond over the musical.”
The show explores the harsh conditions of prison life and the problematic nature of the legal system in a realistic manner. This reflects the shocking reality, as reports by Prison Policy Initiative state that compared to the 10% of all people incarcerated with a conviction, a quarter of convicted incarcerated women are held in jails in the USA. Furthermore, on an international level, around 741,000 are held in prisons around the world, a rate which has risen 17% since 2017, as per Penal Reform International.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, as there is severe racial discrimination when it comes to inmates, as well as a lack of rehabilitation programs upon their release. A majority of the women come from traumatic backgrounds and have most likely been victims of poverty. Along with that, there are numerous instances of violence and sexual abuse inside prisons, often at the hands of the officials themselves. These are some of the painful truths that have been subtly touched upon with a pinch of humor in ‘Hard Cell.’
Just like the show, there are many prison theater programs that aim at inmate rehabilitation through artistic mediums, like The Actors’ Gang Prison Project, Arts in Prison, and Out of the Yard, to name a few. Research studies have also indicated that such art and culture initiatives have had positive behavioral and cognitive impacts on the inmates. Such programs not just help the incarcerated persons adopt a new perspective but also provide them with better lifestyle options post-release.
There are several other TV shows like ‘Orange Is the New Black,’ ‘Wentworth,’ and ‘Clink’ that speak about the grim reality of women in prisons. However, ‘Hard Cell’ portrays the same in a more light-hearted and relatable way, further delving into the touching friendships and banter between the inmates and officials, regardless of situations that may pit them against each other. Thus, we can reiterate that despite being a work of fiction, the show is a believable depiction of true circumstances.
Read More: Where is Hard Cell Filmed?