TV Highlights

What's on Wednesday 22nd April

Russia’s Toughest Prisons

BBC Four - 10pm

Who's in it?

The hollow, haunted residents of Penal Colony 56 tell their sorry stories in what’s sure to be a gruelling yet utterly gripping documentary.

In a nutshell

Prisons in Britain are like holiday homes, according to certain frothingly enraged pundits. After all, our jailbirds get videogames and… pillows. And occasional human warmth. Well, perhaps Russia’s penal colonies will be more to their liking. Specifically, number 56, a hellish netherworld we’ll be entering tonight in a thoroughly feel-bad documentary which will nevertheless be horribly watchable.

This is a realm of very bad men. Hundreds of killers languish behind its walls, and many were actually awaiting execution when the death penalty was abolished in 1996. At which point, several committed suicide. That’s how fantastically unenjoyable life inside this fortress is. This programme sheds light on the weird power hierarchies, secret etiquette, and the daily existence of people with nothing left to do except ponder their own horrific acts and their barren futures.

What's the verdict?

Don’t expect too many lols here – this could well be the grimmest documentary of the month. That said, it’s also a fascinating peek into an alternative universe far removed even the darkest prison dramas you might have seen. Shawshank, without the redemption.

Record Russia’s Toughest Prisons now on Virgin TV Anywhere

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07-07-2011