Why Channel 4's gripping prison drama Locked Up is about to become your latest TV obsession

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Katie O'Malley
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For those of you who have made an addiction out of Making a Murderer, or are counting down the days until Orange Is the New Black Season 4 - good news, there's fresh fruit for your cravings.

Step up Locked Up, a gripping new prison drama on Channel 4.  

Set in fictional high security women’s prison outside Madrid, this new Spanish drama centres on Macarena Ferreiro, a former accountant-turned-tax-fraudster who is sentenced to seven years behind bars at Cruz del Sur prison (a predicament that comes about thanks to her manipulative millionaire boss/lover).

Otherwise known as Vis a Vis (Spanish slang for ‘conjugal visits’), Locked Up has made its way over to Britain with the help of Channel 4’s Walter Presents series, which recently brought us Germany’s Deutschland 83.

The show has already been commissioned for a second series and all of the episodes are now available on All 4, meaning you can binge-watch the whole lot in one sitting.

Here’s a few reasons why you should embrace the delightfully compulsive TV viewing that lies ahead...

It doesn't hold back

It’s being tipped as Spain's version of Orange is the New Black but you can forget the light relief of comical scenes about lost contraband and mythical chickens — Locked Up’s characters are seriously violent. Within 48 hours of arriving at the prison, Macarena’s bunkmate is founded murdered (well, steamed alive to be more precise).

Lead actress Maggie Civantos who plays Macarena says: “So often, women on TV are subordinate – they’re the friend or the supporting character. In this, you see real women: strong women, weak women, sweet women, violent women.”

Unlike OITNB, this series offers a real insight into the bleak reality of incarceration — the brutality, injustice and the daily fight for survival. Not only do we see Macarena struggle to adapt from her middle-class privileged lifestyle into prison life but the plot thickens when she finds a clue to where nine million euros has been buried from her former cellmate (you know, the one who was steamed alive).

The dramatic thriller unfolds over the series as Zulema — a psychopathic inmate who has a weird thing for scorpions and is feared by prison staff, as well as the prisoners — is also on the search for the money. Cue some serious tension between Zulema and Macarena. 

There's also some serious sex scenes in the mix. We all know the phrase ‘Don’t drop the soap’ in the prison showers but if you thought OITNB was open about nudity and sex, Locked Up turns it up a notch.

The show’s creator Alex Pina says it has “the most sex and violence we’ve ever seen on TV in Spain”.

It's cleverly shot

Forget orange, Locked Up is all about the colour yellow. From the prison’s jumpsuits and room numbers to the staircases, the prison is drained of colour — except of a haunting acid yellow — to mesmeric, and eerily disorientating, effect.

Viewers are also invited to get to know the rest of the cellmates through interviews to camera, in what appears to be a documentary on life in prison.

This is luscious fodder for those of you who are partial to Louis Theroux Behind Bars

It's told from the perspective of  women

Similar to Orange Is The New Black, you can expect to see a female-led majority cast, telling the stories from female perspectives on relationships, morals and betrayal.

Walter Iuzzolino, the curator of Channel 4's Walter Presents says: “In Spain about 60 per cent of women watch TV drama compared with 40 per cent of men, but the stories are rarely told from a female perspective.

Locked Up appeals to both genders. Women are interested in the assorted characters and how they develop, while for the men, the fascination is, ‘How do a group of women behave when we’re taken out of the picture?’ It’s also allowed us to bring new ideas to Spanish drama – the lesbian love triangle, for instance.”

You probably won’t have seen any of the actors before but neither will the majority of Spanish viewers — but, that’s the point. The series co-writer Iván Escoba says: “We wanted viewers to believe they were watching goings-on in a prison and not be distracted by the fact they’d seen the actresses in six series before.”

Perfect if, like us, you struggled through the first series of Game of Thrones wondering why the actor playing King Robert Baratheon looked oddly familiar (He’s Dave from The Full Monty, FYI).

It fuels our addiction to foreign drama

When Locked Up aired in Spain last year it attracted an average 3.5million viewers per episode and is sure to welcome a growing following from its British audience given our obsession for foreign dramas like The Killing, Spiral and The Returned.

Also, there’s something about a swear word in Spanish that sounds so much more threatening than in English.

Watch the trailer for Season 1 of Locked Up below

The complete series of Locked Up is available now, in full and for free at 


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Katie O'Malley

Katie O’Malley is the editorial assistant at Stylist magazine. When she’s not writing features about everything, from Suffragettes to fashion designers’ desks, she writes the Elsewhere page and contributes to Scoop and 5 Minute Philosopher. She also has a weakness for cheese, monochrome everything and films…all films.