Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Wentworth: Episode 1 "No Place Like Home" - TVReview

Article author: Alwyn Ash

Taking a look at the most eagerly-awaited re-imagining.

Prior to the broadcast of the debut episode of Wentworth, there had been much discussion from fans of popular cult television Australian drama Prisoner (known as Prisoner: Cell Block H in the UK and US, and Caged Women in Canada) whether a new treatment would serve to be as popular...

Airing between 1979-86 (692 episodes) on Network Ten, Prisoner focused on the lives of women behind bars, tackling both prison adjustment and personal conflict. It had given us strong female characters played by equally inspirational women such as Bea Smith (Val Lehman), Joan Ferguson (Maggie Kirkpatrick), Erica Davidson (Patsy King), Rita Connors (Glenda Linscott), and Ann Reynolds (Gerda Nicolson).

Now, more than twenty years after the original show ended, welcome once more to Wentworth Detention Centre. Except, this time, some of those familiar names have returned, albeit with difference faces and personalities...

So is Wentworth (a brand new drama commissioned by Foxtel) a remake, sequel or prequel? Honestly, it is none of the latter; more of a re-imagining along the same rout as Ronald D. Moore's Battlestar Galactica took with its revival. Though characters such as Bea, Lizzie Birdsworth and Frankie Doyle are present, it is clear that any connection with the original series is very loose indeed. For example, Doreen Anderson is portrayed here by Shareena Clanton, and Lizzie is so far from her original counterpart that she might as well be a different person entirely.

Bea Smith (Danielle Cormack), Franky Doyle (Nicole da Silva),
and Jacs Holt (Kris McQuade) - Wentworth

A rip-off then, and something that fans of Prisoner should distance themselves from, as some people seem to have done long before its initial airing? In all fairness, Wentworth is a familiar tread through the world of prison life, but there is no doubt that this update has something of its own - the characters, though familiar by name if not looks, have the same potential as their originals, the scripts are tight and engaging, and the casting is first rate. That said, I do wonder why Cormack was cast as Bea when she would have been so perfect as Karen Travers, jailed for the murder of her husband (as in the 1979 production); McQuade could have then been cast as Bea; Nicole da Silva as Franky is an excellent choice however.

And perhaps Wentworth would have served better as a sequel to the original rather than any other type, with fresh characters altogether? Regardless, for this fan, there is definitely room for both. I am still happy.

If the writing and direction remain constant throughout its run, there should be no reason why this new concept from Lara Radulovich and David Hannam (based on Reg Watson's original vision) shouldn't be a long-term success. It does have much to live up to compared with Prisoner, Bad Girls (UK drama produced by Shed Productions), and even Within These Walls (UK drama produced by London Weekend Television) - all television dramas focusing on a women's prison.

As for the debut episode itself we are introduced to housewife and hairdresser Bea Smith (Cormack), who arrives at Wentworth Detention Centre on remand for the attempted murder of her husband. This is her first time in prison and there is much to adjust to, as she quickly discovers. A power struggle between fellow inmates Franky Doyle (Nicole da Silva) and Jacs Holt (Kris McQuade) is reaching boiling point and it isn't long before something occurs - with horrifying results...

Shareena Clanton will undoubtedly be the other star as we see her character's story develop. By "Episode 2: Fly Me Away" we will learn of Doreen Anderson's personal heartbreak. And Leeanna Walsman, cast as Prisoner Advocate Erica Davidson, is another face to watch, as there are changes afoot at Wentworth... As for Danielle Cormack and Nicole da Silva - excellent performances ladies!