Wentworth is a prison drama–as with all dramas (or shows in general)–we are introduced to the workings of this new world by way of a particular character. In Wentworth’s case it’s Bea Smith (Danielle Cormack). She’s on remand for the alleged attempted murder of her abusive husband.
Upon her arrival we learn the rules of prison life and who the major players are on both sides of the bars. The main one to keep an eye on behind bars is sassy, inveterate lesbian Frankie Doyle (Nicole da Silva), who has been in control since mafia matriarch Jacs Holt (Kris McQuade) has been out of the picture. When Jacs returns Frankie’s status as top dog becomes tenuous. It’s turf war time, ladies.
The other side of the bars has Governor Davidson (Leeanna Walsman) and her complex relationship with Frankie Doyle. The spouse of one of the officers (who also worked at the prison) is murdered during a riot and the first series is partially about finding what prisoner–or other officer–did it.
First series cast
The second series sees the arrival of the deliciously devious Joan ‘The Freak’ Ferguson (Pamela Rabe) and a couple of other cast changes. The characters that remain grow and the show improves, though the first season was entirely decent. Friction that began between prison officers in the first series continues in the second. Meanwhile, a milquetoast officer from the first season begins to grow a backbone under the sinister tutelage of Governor Ferguson.
One of the officers falls off the wagon, another is playing both sides of the bars and yet another is being stalked by …someone. And paranoid people make stupid decisions. The only thing that separates the screws from the inmates is that the officers haven’t been caught for what they get up to.
I don’t want to say more for spoiler reasons. The third series can roll on any time now.
Second series cast
As I was watching the show I kept thinking various story-lines were similar to ones on Bad Girls or Orange is the New Black, but then discovered Wentworth is a reimagining of Prisoner (Wentworth Prison or Prisoner: Cell Block H in other countries), which was itself inspired by a UK show called Within These Walls. The original Prisoner ran for 692 episodes from 1979 to 1986. So it’s more like the more recent shows are the copy-cats, though I suppose there are only so many plots you can have in a prison.
A friend of mine lives in Sydney and she wants to know why I don’t visit. I say it’s because she lives on the moon. Watching this show has proven to me just how distant the country is. Australia is so far away they’ve had to duplicate their own versions of people in the Northern Hemisphere, because I swear half the cast look like actors from up here in the Land of Correct Seasons.
From the first series we have Jacs Holt (Kris McQuade) standing in for Jane Atkinson.
Australian actress Kris McQuade
English-American actress Jayne Atkinson
For the life of me I cannot work out who Franky Doyle (Nicole da Silva) looks like, but she reminds me of someone. Help.
Out of character Nicole da Silva
When she’s in character & makeup as Frankie/Shane she reminds me of Frankie from Lip Service.
Yeah, she knows it.
Ruta Gedmintas, English actress, smirking it up
Ditto to Doreen Anderson (Shareena Clanton)
Shareena Clanton, looking like…someone
Meg Jackson (Catherine McClements) isn’t around too very long, but she’s doing an excellent job of looking like Valerie Harper.
Antipodean Catherine McClements
American, Valerie Harper
Special kudos goes to Erica Davidson (Leeanna Walsman) who manages to look like both Ellen Pompeo and Claire King, who played the Governor for some time on Bad Girls .
Double look-a-like winner, Leeanna Walsman. Well done.
American Ellen Pompeo
English actress Claire King
And, as I was looking up photos, I discovered Boomer (Katrina Milosevic) actually looks like Dawn French. They do a good job on the show of making her…not look like Dawn French.
Australian Katrina Milosevic
English actress Dawn French
The only person to whom this rule does not apply is Pamela Rabe, but that’s because she’s from Canada.
There is only one Pamela Rabe.
There are other secondary characters who are look-alikes, but I think I’ve proven my point. Leave a comment if you recognise other people.
Wentworth is like a Bad Girls in a soapy drama way, but the first series is like Orange is the New Black in that the audience gets to see the characters’ lives and choices that led them to prison.
Bonus: Once you’ve watched the first two series (and you absolutely should) I highly recommend the AfterEllen recaps , which are hilarious but spoil everything.
Bonus bonus: I’ve started watching the original Prisoner and ‘reimagining’ is a good word for it. I’m only a few episodes in, but it currently looks like they’ve taken the characters and plots, put them in a Yahtzee cup, given it a good shake and let them land where they may.