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Channel 4

1 x 50 minutes
Transmitted December 2005
A Century Films production for
Channel 4

Lyrics
Simon Armitage
Music
Simon Boswell
Camera
Michael Timney
Researcher
Luke Davis
Assistant producer
Elodie Gornall
Editor
Stuart Briggs
Producer
Katie Bailiff
Director
Brian Hill 

 

Songbirds (2005)

Downview Prison in Sutton, England, is home to around 250 women of various ages, nationalities and backgrounds.

Their crimes range from manslaughter to sexual assault to burglary.  Forty per cent of the inmates were convicted of drug importation, many of them are foreign nationals from all parts of the world.

In the film we meet a number of prisoners and hear their stories.  Mary has spent most of the last twenty years in prison, mainly for drugs offences.  The last time she was released, she couldn’t cope with life on the outside and committed two robberies in order to be caught and sent back to prison.  Maggie is an Irish traveller with a history of crack cocaine addiction and burglary.  Celine and Natasha are French sisters, each serving 18 year sentences after being caught at Heathrow with a suitcase full of ecstasy.  Theresa stabbed her neighbour to death after suffering years of noise and harassment.

Although these women are very different, many of the inmates at Downview have something in common – most of them have suffered abuse and violence at the hands of men, sometimes as children.  Another common theme is that many of the women have lost their own children because of coming to prison.

Rather than telling us about their lives in a conventional documentary style, the women sing about their lives in a variety of styles ranging from hip hop to lullaby.

As well as songs, there are also filmed interviews with the women and actuality scenes of prison life.

Songbirds is the first documentary musical to be made in a women’s prison and follows on from Century’s BAFTA award-winning Feltham Sings.


"The...film is terrific – powerful, moving, bleak, funny and hopeful, all at the same time."
The Guardian.

"Sparkling, insightful and original television"
Daily Telegraph.

"Intelligence, compassion, originality – you don’t get those on TV every night."
The Independent.