Alison Carr can’t wait to get locked up again with the inmates at Wentworth, and sets out a few reasons why anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure should join in.
Attention compound. The fourth series of hit Australian drama Wentworth Prison (known as Wentworth down under) arrives on our shores at the end of the month courtesy of Channel 5.
If you’ve watched it up until now, you’ll know this is a cause for celebration. If you haven’t, here are a few reasons why you should get up to speed and get involved:
1. It’s a ‘reimagining’ of 80s cult soap Prisoner: Cell Block H. This might make you roll your eyes imagining camp melodrama played out against cheap sets, but a) this is a high-quality production where the walls never wobble; and b) there’s nothing wrong with a bit of camp melodrama. Wentworth Prison has its fair share of jaw-dropping moments and gasp-inducing cliffhangers and it’s all part of the fun.
2. The characters are fantastic. As is the trope: we enter the prison through the eyes of a new inmate. In this case it’s Bea Smith, a hairdresser accused of the attempted murder of her abusive husband. Over three series we’ve watched Bea transform from scared newbie to hard-as-nails Top Dog with a badass undercut.
“Every prison drama needs its staff psycho… and Wentworth’s ‘The Freak’ out-psychos them all.”
Danielle Cormack is captivating as Queen Bea, a woman battling to survive, who cries and comforts, bullies and kills (careful what you’re doing with that biro, Red). She is supported by a fantastic cast of misfits each with rich backstories and scores to settle.
Hot-headed Franky Doyle’s (Nicole da Silva) backchat hides a whole mess of damage and pain. Liz Birdsworth (Celia Ireland) is a mother to all of the inmates but not to her own children, and Sue ‘Boomer’ Jenkins (Katrina Milosevic) might seem like the lumbering comic relief, but her desperation to be loved will make you weep.
3. It’s brutal. For comparison, let us hold Wentworth Prison up alongside the arguably more famous and lauded Orange is the New Black. At the end of the last series of OITNB, the inmates frolicked in a nearby lake. At the end of the last series of Wentworth, the prison burned down after the Governor set fire to the place to cover up the fact she’d just strangled an inmate.
People die in Wentworth Prison. Regularly. It’s violent and gritty, awash with blood and guts and vomit and tears. Bea’s laundry room showdown with Franky in series two is so balls to the wall, action-packed and intense that it gave me a stress headache. But in a good way.
4. Nothing is black and white. Wentworth Prison is populated with antiheroes who will shiv you then break your heart. Relationships change, battle lines are drawn and shift, loyalty is everything but allegiances are strategic and short-lived. We see the inmates as friends, enemies, wives, leaders, mothers, victims, perpetrators, lovers, daughters. These are complicated, sharp, funny, sly, sad, tough women who are tender and brutal in equal measure.
5. “But you can call me Governor.” Where there are inmates there are guards, and every prison drama needs its staff psycho – Fenner in Bad Girls, OITNB’s Pornstache, most recently the pervy doctor in Locked Up. But Wentworth’s ‘The Freak’ out-psychos them all.
Governor Ferguson arrived in the second series and took the programme to a whole new level of awesomeness. All flawless uniform and tight bun, her ascension via emotional manipulation, scheming and murder was a wicked delight. In series three, however, her bun unravelled and so did her mind, and what a spectacular decline it was.
Pamela Rabe is clearly having a blast being evil, but she also brings depth and vulnerability. Yes, Ferguson is forever snapping on black leather gloves to do nefarious deeds and has a penchant for poking pencils in people’s eyes, but she’s the villain you love to hate. And that Jess deserved everything she got.
So what are the basics you need to know heading into series four? New inmate Kaz has it in for Bea. Franky is out on parole and was last seen driving off into the sunset with the prison’s former psychologist Bridget. Happily ever after? We’ll see.
Meanwhile, Ferguson has been strapped into a straitjacket and looks none too pleased about it.
Series four of Wentworth Prison starts at 10pm on Monday 27 June on Channel 5.7322 Views
Alison is a playwright and would-be tap dancer. She lives in Newcastle upon Tyne.