And so does ‘Fridget’…
Oh Wentworth, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Monday saw the return of Channel 5’s criminal, and criminally under-watched prison drama, Wentworth and I could not be more delighted. Think Bad Girls but classier. Think Oz but female. Think Neighbours but with swearing.
Sheila Canning, original Doreen and resident Erinsborough battleaxe
You don’t need me to tell you about the rich heritage of the series from which Wentworth takes its inspiration. ‘Cell Block H’ as it was known here was an ITV staple for years and I remember all too well being inexplicably allowed to watch it late of an evening with my weekly late-night Chinese but I digress. The series has attracted a huge fanbase, still ongoing to this day and is known for launching the careers of a slew of Aussie stars who would go on to populate Neighbours and Home & Away for the next several decades. Yes, the sets wobbled. Yes, it probably was produced on a budget of $50. And yes, it was fantastic. So how do you go about updating such a series? How do you take such iconic characters of Australian television history and update them? How could that even be a success? Well, rather bloody easily it would seem.
Wentworth is an absolute triumph on all levels. Wall to wall, the cast delivers every week with probably one of the strongest ensembles found on any television drama. The show’s plots are intricately detailed and delivering fresh twists week after week and aided by a beautiful, stylish aesthetic that serves to make Wentworth as pretty but grim as humanly possible.
Altogether now, yaaaaaaaaaaaaaas queen
Let’s talk about that sublime cast. Danielle Cormack as the iconic Queen Bea makes me bow down to her majesty on the regular. Bea has found herself atop of the prison hierarchy and in many ways, Wentworth is her story as she struggles to maintain her position whilst fighting her demons, and her rivals. She’s aided by a slew of incredible supporting cast, each one bringing their A-Game to the table. There’s Bea’s closest supporters, Lizzy and new mum Doreen. Transgender Maxine (an incredibly subtle performance from Socratis Otto as one of the show’s few male cast members) and Boomer, who is crass, vile, violent and yet utterly, utterly sympathetic. Kate Atkinson shines as poor, put-upon new governor, Vera ‘Vinegar Tits’ Bennett and Nicola da Silva plays the troubled, newly released Franky Doyle to utter perfection. Dare I claim the show is at times stolen by Pamela Rabe as former top dog and all-round horror, Joan ‘The Freak’ Ferguson. Pamela serves a mix of genuine terror and high-camp as the scheming villain at the heart of the show’s drama. One is never sure whether we’re going to be horrified by her latest despicable act or applaud with joy at another lip-quivering outburst with a HB pencil. Frankly, I don’t care, every moment she’s onscreen I can’t take my eyes off her and a huge part of Wentworth’s successful formula.
This week, the fourth season premiere, established the new status quo at Wentworth. New prison, new prisoners, same old shit for Bea to deal with. Bea, complex as ever, struggles to maintain her position as Queen of Cell Block H with both prisoners and indeed, new governor, leaning on her for her help in keeping the prison ticking over. Vera stepped into Joan’s size 9 kitten heels with great difficulty as she tried to assert power over the prison and local media during a press event gone wrong. And of course, best of all, Joan herself returned to Wentworth a prisoner awaiting trial, hissing like Hannibal Lector behind her glass prison and plotting her return to the top. And I can’t bloody wait. The heart of the show, in many ways, is with Franky Doyle, triumphantly released from Wentworth last season and shacked up with prison psychologist, Bridget. Frankly, it’s impossible not to love everything about ‘Fridget’ and if you’re not rooting for them to succeed, despite all odds, your heart is as black as Joan’s herself.
What I love most about Wentworth is it’s depiction and appreciation of female characters. Of course, it’s based around a female prison, the women are going to be at the forefront of the show but that doesn’t guarantee that a show is any more capable of writing them. Wentworth’s cast is a beacon of strong, female characters. Far from perfect, deeply flawed and often violent, each and every one has moment of light and some finely drawn characterisation work ensures that we always know why characters behave like they do, even if we don’t like it. That’s not to say the show is bereft of male characters or treats them with disdain, it’s that they’re all viewed from within a female lens. The power-play for ownership of Wentworth, between prisoners and prison staff, between prisoner and prisoner, at the core of the series serves one of the strongest depictions of a large female ensemble on TV. One where the female characters seemingly have no power at all, yet also hold it all.
Long story short, watch Wentworth and let’s get our Freak on.
None, Joan, none. http://cannibalspicnic.tumblr.com