The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television -

Wed­nes­day, 8.30pm, SoHo A re-imag­in­ing of the old Pris­oner se­ries that ran for 692 episodes from 1979 on Ten, Went­worth is both pre­quel and se­quel. While set in the present, with con­tem­po­rary street drugs, talk of the in­ter­net (but no ac­cess to it) and com­put­erised pris­oner sur­veil­lance, the char­ac­ters are for the most part much younger ver­sions of the ones in the old se­ries. We there­fore have a timid, still in­no­cent Vera Ben­nett played by Kate Atkin­son ( SeaChange, Off­spring ), surely the ac­tress with the most strik­ing phys­i­cal re­sem­blance to an orig­i­nal cast mem­ber. Played in the first 224 episodes of the old se­ries by Fiona Spence, Vera was al­ways the most heart­less ‘‘ screw’’, fa­mously known as ‘‘ vine­gar tits’’ by the women be­cause of her un­re­lent­ing cru­elty and bit­ter­ness. This made rare ex­po­sure of Vera’s lousy ro­man­tic life and the con­stant jibes from her venomous el­derly mother par­tic­u­larly poignant when we saw them. Though it has a wide range of char­ac­ters, whose per­sonal and prison lives are ex­plored on both sides of the bars, cen­tral char­ac­ter Bea Smith, for­merly played by Val Lehman, now in­hab­ited by flame-haired Danielle Cor­mack ( Rake, Un­der­belly ), is still the fo­cus of the se­ries. In the end, the over­lap with Pris­oner char­ac­ters from decades ago is mostly nos­tal­gia for the le­gions of fans Went­worth will be hop­ing to bring back to the fold. This was par­tic­u­larly ap­par­ent when en­tirely new char­ac­ter and cur­rent top dog Jacs Holt (Chris McQuade) war­bled a few bars of the old Pris­oner theme ( On the In­side, by Al­lan Caswell) in her cell in last week’s de­but. A great TV mo­ment to be sure, but it does cre­ate a point of view prob­lem. Was Jacs a fan of the orig­i­nal se­ries in the early 1980s? Over­all, with its cin­e­matic HBO style, rich Aus­tralian char­ac­ters new and old, its graphic vi­o­lence, great per­for­mances and riv­et­ing sto­ry­lines, Went­worth is a tri­umph whether you know the old se­ries or not. The pro­gram has al­ready been sold to Bri­tish broad­caster Chan­nel 5. Ex­pect more in­ter­na­tional in­ter­est to fol­low.

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