As the country (and soon the world) talks about the brilliant new series Wentworth, it’s best to remember the show that breathed life into it and changed the Australian television landscape forever, Prisoner.
Set in the Wentworth Detention Centre, the storylines focused on the lives of the prisoners and, to a lesser extent, the officers and other prison staff. As the initial episodes began to air and were met with enthusiastic reception, it was felt Prisoner could be developed into an on-going soap opera, and as such, the initial storylines were developed and expanded, and new plots and characters phased in.
The themes of the show were often radical, including feminism, homosexuality and social reform. When the series launched in early 1979, the press advertising used the line “If you think prison is hell for a man, imagine what it’s like for a woman.”.
The series examined in detail the way women dealt with incarceration and separation from their families, and also the recurring theme of released inmates often being drawn into a circle of re-offending. Within the walls of the prison, the major themes of the series were the interpersonal relationships between the prisoners, the power struggles, friendships and rivalries.
To a certain extent, the misfits who found themselves within the walls of the Wentworth Detention Centre became each other’s family, with Bea Smith as a mother figure.
Wentworth also focuses on Bea Smith when she first enters prison,is separated from her daughter and sent to Wentworth on remand, where she lives in “an uncertain limbo” until she is sentenced. Bea is then forced to learn how the prison works.
Celebrate a classic Australian drama today with Booktopia.
About the Contributor
Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.
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