SLL40380 Global Prison Film

Academic Year 2023/2024

The genre of prison film has been one of the most exploited by the film industry since at least the 1930s and 1940s. Classic prison films have established key generic traits through memorable narratives and mediated a specific imagination as well as misconceptions about punishment among their audiences. In recent years, the production has continued to be dominated by US films and tv series; however, European productions have also gained momentum and contributed to discourses about coercive environments. Moreover, recent films and tv series have raised new awareness of the process of identity transformation, or “identity work”, among fictional inmates compared to past representations where more fixed identities were displayed for narrative purposes. Complex narratives open multiple windows on the inmates’ psychology and life backgrounds as well as the transformative process that prison life entails, be it towards re-education, redemption, personal growth, re-introduction in society or, conversely, towards destructive, degenerative experiences, loss of identity, acts of bullying, violence, and murder, while also opening the genre to a wider array of issues related to women and LGBTQ+ subjects. This module offers an overview of these issues and frames the prison film and its subgenres within contemporary visual culture in the US and Europe.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

Students who successfully complete this module will:
- Have become familiar with the generic characteristics of prison films
- Have developed a solid knowledge about the historical development of the prison film genre
- Have become aware of the main social and representative issues related to coercive environments in different epochs and countries
- Have gained the ability to apply interdisciplinary perspectives to film analysis and write convincingly about the topic
- Have developed basic skills in video presentation of complex content.

Indicative Module Content:

Course Structure
Week 1. Introduction. Exploring the genre and politics of representation
Week 2. The prison escape film
Week 3. Inmates and guards
Week 4. The asylum
Week 5. Political prisoners
Week 6. Prison identities
Week 7. Bodies, minds, identity work
Week 8-9. Reading weeks
Week 10. Prison masculinities
Week 11. Women in prison
Week 12. Borstals and Magdalene laundries
Week 13. Contemporary docufictions and drama
Week 14. Conclusion, Q&A.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Seminar (or Webinar)




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Weekly lecture and seminar based on a programme of viewing and reading.
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations
Learning Requirements:

BA studies or equivalent.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade In Module Component Repeat Offered
Presentation: One 10-min e-presentation. It should include a brief comparative analysis of relevant filmic elements in at least 2 films. Throughout the Trimester n/a Alternative linear conversion grade scale 40% No


Essay: One 4,000-word essay. Essays should focus on issues in the politics of representation with reference to at least 3-4 films

Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Graded No



Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Summer No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Advice on assessment tasks will be available in advance and feedback available post-assessment.

Key readings:
• Alber, Jan (2007), Narrating the Prison: Role and Representation in Charles Dickens’ Novels, Twentieth-Century Fiction and Film (Amherst-New York: Cambria Press).
• Dawn C. Cecil (2015), Prison Life in Popular Culture: From The Big House to Orange Is the New Black (Boulder: Lynne Rienner).
• Fludernik, Monika (2019), Metaphors of Confinement: The Prison in Fact, Fiction, and Fantasy (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
• Foss, Katherine A. (2018), Demystifying the Big House: Exploring the Prison Experience and Media Representations (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press).
• Gonthier, David (2006), American Prison Film since 1930. From ‘The Big House’ to ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press).
• Grønstad, Asbjørn (2008), Transfigurations: Violence, Death and Masculinity in American Cinema (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press).

• Kehrwald, Kevin (2017), Prison Movies: Cinema Behind Bars (New York: Wallflower).
• Jackson, Shirley A. and Laurie L. Gordie (eds.) (2018), Caged Women: Incarceration, Representation and Media (Abingdon: Routledge).
• Nellis, Mike and Christopher Hale, (eds.) (1982), The Prison Film (London: Radical Alternatives to Prison).

• Wilson, David and Sean O’Sullivan (2004), Images of Incarceration. Representations of Prison in Film and Television Drama (Winchester: Waterside Press).
• A detailed list of further readings will be made available by the lecturer.