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This Australian series has, after 692 episodes, received cult status all over the world. The series takes place in Wentworth, a prison in Australia. Wentworth is a high-security female prison. The women are there for all sorts of crimes. We get to follow how they got there, their life in the prison and what becomes of them afterwards. We also get to follow the staff, their work in the prison and their personal relationships. Written by
It is ironic that a country which was founded as a penal colony to relieve Britain's overcrowded jails should have scored a world wide hit with a drama series about women in prison.
The characters in the series are a varied selection of women, from the rougher classes to the more refined, and all are serving sentences, some deserved, and others not so. There is the unrepentant assertive Bea who murdered her philandering husband the day after she got out of jail for another offense. Her comical sidekick, Birdy, an alcoholic old lag doing time for putting rat poison in the food she served as a cook on a sheep station to teach the shearers a lesson. A refined elderly woman who has served 12 to 16 years (it seems to vary) for the mercy killing of the husband she loved. A deeply religious teacher whose abusive husband had forced her to abort her child, only to find him in bed with his best friend's wife when she got home, whereupon she stabbed him to death. The porn actress/prostitute finding ways to be alone with the male electrician, drug dealers and a girl wrongfully accused of kidnapping a child.
There is humour, and also pathos. Some of the women know of no other life and have nowhere to go when they are released, and quickly get themselves arrested to return to jail. The old lag Birdy is one of them. After years of looking forward to her first drink (not counting the surgical spirit she has been stealing from the clinic) she cannot cope with the outside and feels that the prison was her home, and where all her friends are. Some of them are released only to find they are an embarrassment to their families and not wanted. While the stories of the women are grim and sad, many having been abused as children by drunken fathers or as wives by abusive husbands, the humorous banter never stops. The women get up to all kinds of capers to break the rules without being caught.
Anyone who is not familiar with Australia and the more British way of life and customs, may feel that there is something a little off at first and at times downright odd. They speak English differently, using colloquial expressions unique to Australia, and they swear a lot. They drive on the other side of the road. There is a portrait of the Queen on the office walls. Women tend to dress more smartly. The abused wives would rather go to jail than let their friends know they were abused. Everyone has a home bar and drinks liquor at any time of day and even the prison governor has a few bottles on the sideboard in her office. The interiors of the Melbourne homes is atrocious - loud patterns violently clashing. Drapes, wall paper, carpets and furniture are all patterned in lurid colors and none of them coordinate. As the series was made in the late 70's, no one yet has a computer or cell phone, there are many missed connections. If you haven't got the money for the phone box, you can't make the call. A prisoner is arrested for murder and her trial is in five days!!! They sure know how to speed up the system down under.
The wardens vary from kind and understanding to harsh and bitchy. The governor is the most incompetent dogooder and makes you wonder how she ever got the job, let alone keeps it. She reads the riot act at least twice per episode.
The overall standard of production and acting is surprisingly good considering that Australia did not have much of a film industry or TV production at the time and the budget was miniscule. The actors would have been mostly stage actors and there would not have been too many as some actors appear in different parts throughout the series, which makes for a fun guessing game. If you can ignore the rather low budget look, the terrible interior decoration, the sometimes amateur acting, and just enjoy the sparkling script and the fast pace of the series, it can be a very enjoyable and very addictive experience. I wish American soap operas were like this.
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