For eight years, Wentworth has taken us through the gut-wrenching highs and lows of the eponymous all-female prison. Now, the end is officially in sight with the final season airing and it’s time to say goodbye to the ground-breaking Aussie drama.
Upon its initial release, eyebrows were raised on whether the show would live up to the hype of the popular seventies series Prisoner (1979 – 1986) of which Wentworth was a reimagining of. Prisoner served as a major success in Australian and international television but all qualms were immediately dissipated by the end of the first episode. There has never been a show like Wentworth on our screens.
Despite premiering in 2013, I didn’t begin watching until late 2016 – shortly after the fourth season had ended – and was unfamiliar with its source material. Yet somehow, Wentworth occupied every conversation I had over weekly viewings and recommendations. It had taken a while but from the second the pilot finished, I was well and truly hooked on the thrill inside the prison walls. I finally understood why Wentworth was the talk of the town.
The series is permanently situated in this intensely dark atmosphere. It’s a prime example of executing a compelling drama within a singular confinement. There is no such thing as a dull moment throughout the entire show; loaded with nail-biting riots and harrowing sacrifices, the intertwining lives of inmates and guards are embedded in a gritty, wretched, less than ideal reality. Prison life at Wentworth is anything but a walk in the park.
Moral ambiguity is severe. The stakes are through the roof. A pressure cooker in every sense of the phrase. The prisoners are brutal with their dominion but it’s nothing compared to the dangers on the other side of the fence. Not only does the show trail into the power battles enclosed by the bars, a large portion centres on the officers – most of whom are far more nefarious than those they are sworn to keep in line. No one is innocent. Every character holds a sacrilegious edge. They thrive on corruption. It only becomes a question of how far one is willing to go to indulge the temptation.
Amidst the chaos, there is a unique, beguiling quality surrounding this band of miscreants. One minute, you are howling with rage as Jake (Bernard Curry) commits unthinkably heinous acts; the next, you have outpouring empathy for the murderous drug dealer turned doting dad. It is a sincere credit to the cast and crew who have created a world so full of complex individuals whilst conveying a harsh realism that is otherwise avoided in most dramas. It is a rarity that a television series portrays and dives into the topics the way that Wentworth has. The authenticity is commendable.
Cultural relevance persists with themes such as the corruption of the legal system, drug addiction, and LGBTQ+ representation. The show’s distinctive method of storytelling is radical. Female-centric narratives are key. Although there are a handful of integral male leads, the cast is primarily dominated by women. Diversity is in high demand with each leading lady, who share equal amounts of screen time to preserve the importance of their stories. The platform belongs to the women.
No character is without redemption. Even Pamela Rabe’s vindictive Joan Ferguson has burrowed her way into our hearts, and who could ever forget the poignant journey Franky Doyle (Nicole da Silva) endured? The performances are consuming. Though the content can be tough to digest, the cast give it their all, they make it believable and everyone gets their chance under the spotlight. They are really at the heart of the show, carrying it through, reminding us of the desperate fight to keep their humanity whilst doing all that they can to remain on top.
As widely anticipated as the upcoming finale is, saying goodbye to Wentworth still seems like a foreign concept. The adventure is a exhilarating from the beginning. Packed with beautifully constructed arcs, well developed characters, and a fitting score from Richard Pleasance, TV has never been better and it hopefully won’t be the last of its kind.