I am loving the glut of new shows airing that are focused on telling women’s stories. There’s Broad City, Girls, Benched, Outlander, Orphan Black, The Good Wife, Veep, and Homeland, just to name a few. And, of course, the big hit Orange is the New Black. But what do you watch when that is on break? While browsing Netflix, I happened upon a newer show from Australia, called Wentworth. It follows a group of women as they navigate the prison system. Sound familiar?
Wentworth follows Bea Smith (Danielle Cormack) as she is imprisoned for attempting to murder her husband. While awaiting sentencing, she encounters Franky (Nicole da Silva) and Jacs (Kris McQuade) who are both vying to be top dog in prison. The cast is rounded out by many women who are incarcerated for a range of crimes, most of them involving an involuntary death. We also get to watch the stories playing out behind the scenes with the guards as they deal with the violence and chaos at the prison and also in their outside worlds.
As this show gets more attention, there are bound to be lots of comparisons to Orange is the New Black. The biggest difference between Wentworth and Orange is the New Black is its outlook on the world. OITNB has an optimistic point of view and is always hopeful, even while the women encounter unfortunate circumstances. Wentworth takes the opposite view. In the world of Wentworth, you are not going to make it out of this prison learning more about yourself and creating a new family along the way. It is a much darker show that explores what everyone can and sometimes needs to do when pushed into a corner.
In both shows, you learn the backgrounds of the main characters. OITNB shows the unfortunate situations that most of these women were in when they were arrested. Many of them are imprisoned not because of the terrible choices they made, but because they followed someone else or they grew up in bad neighborhoods, essentially victims of circumstance. Wentworth differs in this area. These women also come from bad environments but they proactively attempted to escape their world. And even in the portrayal of characters’ backstories, the inmates are not humanized. You might see why they did their crimes, but they all still deserve to be in prison.
Even with this bleak outlook on the world, Wentworth shines in its portrayal of humanity. These women aren’t going to come together to put on a holiday pageant. But you will still feel for them and their environment, even if many of them have broken the law. Even in this world where violence is an everyday thing, the women are not desensitized to it. They have an internal code that guides them, including things like never exploiting their kids. It’s these moments that almost make you forget that these women are violent and brutal, but by showing both sides at Wentworth, the viewers are forced to question the very nature of our humanity and what we would do when forced into an un-winnable situation.
Images via smh.com.au and telegraph.co.uk.