There I am Googling the stars of Xena as you do. What? You don’t? Liar! What are you, under 30? Anyway, I stumble upon the IMDB of Danielle Cormack, who played Ephiny, queen of the Amazons. Look, stick with me ok, the Xena stuff stops here. It turns out she has a new show out called Wentworth. Down the Google rabbit-hole I go and much to my delight, Wentworth is an up-dated kinda-remake of Prisoner Cell Block H.
Prisoner Cell Block was a show back in the early 80s. Based in a women’s prison in Australia, it was pretty gritty and hard-hitting for its time and it had what I think was the first lesbian character my mam ever saw on telly. She flipping loved Cell Block H, which was as famous for its wobbly sets and dodgy camera work as it was for its excellent writing an acting.
It’s held up as one of the greats of Aussie telly, so to make a new one is brave to say the least.
Now the delicious equation of Ms Cormack, plus Prisoner, plus maybe lesbians, equal a happy HAL, so I watched the whole of season one. Oh, Em. Jee. I was not disappointed.
Wentworth starts off following the incarceration of Bea (Danielle Cormack), who tried to kill her abusive husband. She is as wetting-herself terrified as anyone would be, but some of the women she’s in with try to help her feel more at home. As we go through the episodes we meet the other inmates: Liz, an alcoholic with a tragic past; Doreen, an ex-junky who inadvertently killed someone while driving high; Franky, a lesbian who attacked someone on reality telly; Boomer who is Franky’s right-hand woman; and then there is Jacs, aging matriarch of the mafia who runs the prison.
Then there are the ‘screws': Vera, with a heart of gold; Fletch, who is troubled but seems nice; Will, who I won’t talk about in case I ruin stuff; and Erica who just might have a thing for Franky.
There is LOADS going on in Wentworth, intrigue, maybe-romance, violent hatred, laughs – the works. It’s all underlined by some seriously excellent acting, and some disturbingly emotional writing. (Seriously, there were tears and I had to Rizzoli & Isles to cheer myself up after one of the episodes).
It’s tough on a show like this though, in that it is always going to be rated alongside the original in Australia and Bad Girls in the UK and Ireland. There are eye-rolling similarities to the latter, but the acting is SO good, that you just go with it. As for the former, Wentworth isn’t trying to be as good as Prisoner Cell Block H, it’s jumped out of its shadow and using it as a springboard to launch these women’s stories into the modern era. Although, probably the saddest thing about it is that, since the late 70s, nothing has really changed in the prison system; a lot of the women are victims themselves, the wrong people get put away and violence rules behind bars.