Wentworth is frequently mentioned when the conversation turns to Orange is the New Black. The Australian women’s prison drama is now on Netflix. I binge watched both seasons of the show and now understand why the two shows are so often mentioned in the same breath.
This review of Wentworth will tell you a little about the show and the cast. I’m not going to point out every parallel between Wentworth and Orange is the New Black because I think you’ll pick them up on your own.
Wentworth is a remake of an Australian show called Prisoner which ran from 1979 to 1986. The current show began in 2013. The first two seasons have won awards for best drama and best actress for Nicole de Silva. Netflix currently has the first 2 seasons, so an American can catch up without any delays. In some locales around the world where the show is available, it’s called Wentworth Prison.
Season 3 is currently underway on Australian TV, but it will be some time before the current season reaches American Netflix viewers. The show has an up-to-date Facebook page with photos from season 3. [Note: Season 3 of Wentworth is now on American Netflix.]
The Wentworth Story
It’s an ensemble cast with many complex characters. The two nominal lead characters are Franky (Nicole de Silva) and Bea (Danielle Cormack). The story starts with Bea’s arrival in the prison for the attempted murder of her abusive husband.
Much of the action takes place in the laundry, the cafeteria, or in the common areas of each cell block. There’s also an infirmary where prisoners end up with some frequency.
The characters are mostly white. There are some racial politics, but the main themes are around power and control.
Starting from the bottom left, the major characters in season 1 in the photograph are:
- Franky, a lesbian with a big crew who wants to be top dog. She’s very sexy and she uses it strategically.
- Bea, a newcomer who is concerned about her teenaged daughter (Georgia Flood) and who is learning to survive the prison system. She gains the respect of the prisoners and so becomes an irritant to Franky in her quest to overturn Jacs.
- Will Jackson, a correctional officer who is married to the Governor in episode 1. That governor gets killed and a new one comes in. He goes a little nuts over his wife’s death, but he’s basically a good guy.
- Vera Bennett (Kate Atkinson), a correctional officer with a meek personality, an abusive mother, and a belief in following the rules.
- Erica Davidson (Leeanna Walsman), the new governor who says she believes in treating people well but doesn’t always do that once she’s in power. She has a massive case of the hots for Franky.
- Jacs Holt (Kris McQuade), who is top dog and can arrange a murder with very few words. She holds on to her power with vicious intensity. Her son Braydon (Reef Ireland) will date Bea’s daughter – and not for good reasons.
- Doreen, who has a good heart and lots of love to give. She has trouble doing some of the things Franky wants her to do to help Franky gain power.
- Matt Fletcher (Aaron Jeffery) a correctional officer who drinks too much, is troubled, but ultimately wants to see justice in the prison system.
- Liz Birdsworth (Celia Ireland), another troubled character who spends her time trying to keep peace in the prison and stop the women from hurting each other over power struggles.
Not in the photo is Boomer (Katrina Milosevic) who is a large, strong woman Franky uses as her muscle. Jacs’ muscle is primarily provided by Simone (Alexandra Fowler).
We don’t get the back story on every character. There are occasional flashbacks to a character’s past, but not for everyone. Sometimes we don’t know why characters are in prison.
There are some cast changes in season 2, as well as some character growth. From the left in the photograph:
- Will Jackson
- Joan Ferguson (Pamela Rabe) is the new governor. She manipulative, obsessive, ruthless, and has a secret vendetta she uses her position to carry out.
- Vera, who goes gaga over Governor Ferguson and tries to be just like her. Vera finally develops a backbone, but doesn’t use it well.
- Matt Fletcher
- Liz, who, much to her chagrin, is out on parole for part of season 2.
- Bea, who becomes obsessed with thoughts of revenge against anyone in the Holt family both in and out of prison. She’s smart enough to find ways to carry out her revenge schemes.
- Franky, who has some triumphs and some failures in season 2.
- Doreen, who falls for a male prisoner – Nash Taylor (Luke McKenzie) – who comes to help build a garden. She also has a particular importance for Governor Ferguson.
Not shown in the photo is Socratis Otto as Maxine, a trans woman. (Otto is male.) Also worth mentioning are Katherine Beck as Sky, a weird addict who joins Franky’s crew and Georgia Chara as Jess, whose attempts at seducing Fletcher are important to the story arc.
Some Thoughts on Wentworth
Gritty drama is a good description of Wentworth. The characters are fascinating – multi-layered, mostly women. There is everything from the basest evil to sublime redemption depicted among this large cast.
My favorite character is Doreen. Shareena Clanton, who plays Doreen, is very young and bursting with talent. She’s one of the few characters who doesn’t have some dark inner flaw that makes her hurt other people. (At least if she does, we don’t learn about it in the first two seasons.) Shareena Clanton is an actress to watch, in my opinion.
The acting is superb from everyone in the cast. Every performance is on the mark, every character believable. The story lines and the progress of each character through the two seasons are clear and well written.
There are many women’s names listed among writers and directors, which I count as a very good thing.
In summary, this drama about a women’s prison is well-acted, well-written and very good. I completely recommend it. Five stars, or however many the maximum number of stars might be, I give to Wentworth.