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‘Eerie and bleak’ Peterhead Prison haunts star of new Channel 4 drama Screw

The cast of channel 4 series Screw, partially set in Peterhead Prison
Screw, Channel 4's major new drama series, was filmed at Peterhead Prison - and the jail left a lasting impression on actor Laura Checkley.

When actor Laura Checkley arrived at Peterhead Prison to film Screw – Channel 4’s major new series – the former most notorious jail in Scotland left a lasting impression on her.

“It’s an incredible building, really eerie and bleak, perfect for Screw, really,” said Laura, who stars as prison guard Jackie Stokes in the show, which airs on Thursday nights.

“And I couldn’t get over the size of the cells, when I went in there, it was teeny tiny. That really knocked me back a bit, because it felt very suffocating.”

Fortunately for Laura – best known for her comedy role as Terri in King Gary – she and the rest of the ensemble cast didn’t have to spend too long inside Peterhead Prison, which is standing in for the fictional Long Marsh Prison.

Only the exterior scenes for Screw, which follows the trials and tribulations of a group of embattled prison officers in a mix of dark drama leavened with humour, were shot in the Blue Toon.

Laura Checkley playing prison officer Jackie Stokes in Channel 4 series, Screw
Laura Checkley plays prison officer Jackie Stokes in Channel 4 series, Screw, filmed at Peterhead.

That involved two-weeks of intensive filming outside the prison, which closed in 2013 and is now an award-winning museum.

How did Laura Checkley get on with Doric accents?

“It was really cold and windy and there were lots of seagulls as well, just tons of birds surrounding the prison. That made it feel really eerie, too. It is quite unique.”

The intensive filming schedule and Covid-restrictions in place meant Londoner Laura didn’t have a chance to see too much of Peterhead, other than a brief visit to the shops.

So how did she cope with the Doric accents of Peterhead?

“Yeah, I had to say ‘I’m sorry’ a few times,” she laughed. “Especially with the masks on top.”

Watching the series – the third episode airs on January 19 but all episodes are available on All 4 – it is hard to believe the interior shots are filmed on a set in Glasgow, not in Peterhead itself.

“It’s a three-storey, purpose-built set and it’s incredible,” said Laura. “There are heavy doors, everything locks… no shaky sets like Prisoner Cell Block H.

“And it made filming just so much more accessible and quicker. I think if we’d have filmed in Peterhead for sure, would have been stopping and starting all the time, because the cells are very small.”

Laura loves playing prison officer Jackie, who is described as the “mother hen” of the guards, tasked with overseeing prisoners in a pressure-cooker environment of C Wing.

Screw is a series that hooks people in

“Jackie is a straight-talking, no-nonsense, a bit foul-mouthed but honest and fair. She’s got a big heart. She’s a bit like the mother figure of the prison, I guess.”

Laura Checkley
Laura Checkley said she has been intrigued by prisons all her life.

As for the series itself, Laura said it’s a show that hooks people in.

“People have been binge-watching it, which is great. It’s got lots of twists and turns and you want to know what happens next,” she said.

“I’m in it and I know what happens next and I was still like ‘oh, I want to watch another one’.”

She jumped at the chance to be part of Screw, driven by a lifelong interest in prisons and TV shows about them.

“My nan lived around the back of Wormwood scrubs prison, you could see the prison the bedroom windows. As a kid, I played outside and you could hear them shouting.

A scene from Screw. filmed at Peterhead prison
A scene from Screw.

“So I’ve always been hugely intrigued by prisons. I’ve watched every prison programme going, Prisoner of Cell Block H, Bad Girls, all of it. So I kind of felt like I know this world.”

The actor, who has also appeared in Detectorists and This Country, said she loved working with the hugely talented cast of Screw. That includes Nina Sosanya of His Dark Materials and Little Birds fame as well as Jamie-Lee O’Donnell of Derry Girls.

Intimidating switch from comedy to drama

“At first it was very intimidating because I have spent such a long time in comedy,” said Laura.

“I had a lot of stuff to do with Nina, who is just a drama heavyweight and so brilliant, but she was wonderful. Everyone in the cast has an incredible reputation, but we got really comfortable with each other and built up such a camaraderie.”

The interior of Peterhead Prison which is now an award-winning museum.
The interior of Peterhead Prison which is now an award-winning museum.

To research the show, the cast had two weeks with prison guards to find out what life is really like in prisons. During filming an advisor was on hand at all times to ensure the show was as authentic as possible.

After taking with prison guards, Laura hopes Screw will not only entertain people, but also make them take another look at the prison system and the people who work in it.

“I have a newfound respect for prison officers,” she said. “It’s a public service they are providing, but they don’t get any thanks for it. No one talks about it.

When and where can you watch Screw?

“(Prison officers) are often portrayed as the baddie, the person that doesn’t want to help. Actually a lot of them are just trying to do good and I hope Screw shows that side of it.”

exterior of Peterhead Prison
The “bleak and eerie” exterior of Peterhead Prison.

The reception for Screw has been overwhelmingly positive, both from viewers and critics, garnering five-star reviews in national newspapers. Which begs the question is there another series waiting in C Wing?

“I hope so. The viewing figures are great, we’ve just been sold on to New Zealand and Australia. We’re all keen to do another one, so as soon as I know, I’ll let you know.”

Screw airs on Channel 4 at 9pm on Thursdays and all episodes are available on All 4.

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