It’s hard to imagine that the Bea Smith who meekly entered Wentworth Correctional Facility all the way back at the start of Season One is the same Bea that was, over the last couple of weeks, overthrowing Franky Doyle in a tense blade battle and popping a bullet into the head of Brayden Holt.
And yet, at the same time, it’s not that hard to believe either. The writing and the performances of Danielle Cormack as the new top dog have made Bea’s dramatic and traumatic journey thoroughly believable and enthralling. Bea has faced her toughest challenges from behind bars, not least of all the death of her daughter Debbie and her development into the hardened yet still highly moral character that she has become has been a thrill to watch.
Similarly, the gradual development of slightly sadistic Governor Joan Ferguson into the most supreme television psycho of all time has been just as jaw droppingly exciting to behold. Pamela Rabe delivers such chilling and subtle performances; the kind where a look or a smirk delivers more meaning than a whole page of dialogue ever could. Discovering more about Ferguson’s intentions and true twisted nature has been the making of the second season which somehow managed to eclipse the high standards of the first.
And last night’s finale topped it all off spectacularly, leaving an audience exhausted from the tension but pining for more of the same. Fear not folks, there is a third season on it’s way next year, with writer Pete McTighe already having promised me in our exclusive interview that it is epic.
The moment Wentworth Prison fans have been excitedly anticipating and dreading in equal measure arrives this week; as the tense second series of the hit prison drama reaches a nailbiting climax that will leave viewers stunned. It’s been a rollercoaster of a series; matching the quality if not exceeding the fantastic debut series. Viewers old and new have embraced Wentworth Prison and it is the ensemble efforts of the writers, crew, cast and production team that have created such a successful show.
I was lucky enough to catch up with writer, Pete McTighe, to chat about his work on Wentworth. Pete has been at the forefront of the Wentworth team since day one, penning the very first episode and five of the other episodes of the first series. After the runaway success of Series One, a further two series were commissioned and Pete has written his fair share of these episodes too, including the explosive finale about to hit our screens.
For a PauseLiveAction exclusive, I present the fruits of my conversation with Pete below as he shares the secrets, triumphs and challenges of working on one of the strongest dramas currently on television.
How long does it take to write an episode of Wentworth and what is the biggest challenge of doing so?
Generally I’m pretty focussed and quick – it’ll take a week or two depending on the content of the episode. When I wrote Episode 1, I finished the first draft in 7 days as we had a very tight deadline for delivery to the broadcaster. I force myself to be quite regimented when I write, I’m in a routine now where I try to write for about 8 or 9 hours a day (with short breaks), or give myself a daily page target and don’t stop until I meet it.
The biggest challenge comes from the closed environment of the prison – it’s a great device to slam characters together and create/build tension between them, but can also be problematic – for instance figuring out exactly how someone could escape from prison in a grounded and believable (but also exciting) way.
Do you have a favourite character to write for?
For Series 1, it was Jacs and Franky. For Series 2 and 3, I’d have to say Ferguson and Boomer. It was a real thrill writing Ferguson’s introduction, that was something I’d been eager to do ever since we started the series. I loved Maggie Kirkpatrick’s interpretation of the character back in the day and as a writing team we were all interested in finding a new take on her. Pamela Rabe just nailed that character. We were so lucky, our producers & casting people put together an amazing ensemble.
It was quite a quiet day at Wentworth Correctional Facility all in all. Aside from shower room sex, knife fights, gun deliveries, hospital escapes, warden breakdowns and Doreen’s pregnancy farts, nothing much was really going on.
It was a tension filled episode; arguably more so than Wentworth has ever been, and that’s saying something. As Vera/Mini-Freak/Vinegar Tits (delete as appropriate) pointed out early on; something big was bubbling; and no, I’m not just talking about Doreen’s flatulent digestive system. An uprising was afoot; but Bea has even bigger fish to fry than top dog Franky; after a fight and a half, she took the steps to hack wounds into herself so she could end up in hospital to make a break for it. Yep, for the new Wentworth Top Dog, covering herself in magazine armour and taking down the current leader was just one step in a bigger master plan; one that even puppet master Joan Ferguson didn’t see coming until it was too late.
It was only a matter of time before Franky and Bea would clash spectacularly, and the entire episode, if not the entire series built up to the critical face off in the laundry room. Franky’s cockiness began to get shaky; particularly when she discovered that Maxine was double crossing her. Her violent threats did nothing to shake the indomitable Maxine, who saw, like the rest of us, that Franky’s control was slipping.
Every time I watch an episode of Wentworth Prison I think that it has reached the highest quality possible and I sit back and think ‘they’ll never top that!’ I am almost always invariably wrong. What an hour of drama last night’s visit to the hellish Correctional Facility was!
Focusing predominantly on television’s most fascinating character of all time, namely Joan ‘The Freak’ Ferguson, we got an insight into her past which gave us an idea as to what has twisted her into the warped control freak that is today. Pamela Rabe plays her beautifully; I never thought there could be another Joan Ferguson but I will happily eat my words on this one: Pamela is sensational. Last night she played malice, sorrow, evil, pain and even a little dark humour into a collective performance that had me loving and loathing the character in equal measures. And that is when you know a television villain is a success; when a viewer can despise everything they do and yet still absolutely adore the character and even root for her to get away with it.
The first five minutes of the episode saw her don her infamous black, leather gloves to give Doreen a good smacking upon discovering that she is with child. After a tense showdown, poor Dor was dragged screaming away to be tested, where the Governor’s suspicions were confirmed. The episode’s high octane levels were only just beginning with these shocking scenes.
It turns out that the reason Ferguson has had a bit of a soft spot for Doreen up until now is because she reminds her of a prisoner under her care from a previous job some years ago. History appears to be repeating itself and it is leaving Ferguson distinctly uncomfortable. Some flashbacks which, as well as giving a dark insight into Ferguson’s black soul, also introduced us to her in an ever so kinky uniform and sporting a fantastic retro hairstyle, showed us that Ferguson had a very close relationship with this prisoner. When this prisoner fell pregnant, social workers took her baby from her which led her to commit suicide. We know Joan Ferguson as calm, collected and always in control; to see her wailing in horror upon discovering the body shook the very foundations of our perception of ‘The Freak’ and made us do the unthinkable: feel sorry for Ferguson. It was a grim and haunting scene and moving to the extreme.
What is the main lesson that we have learned since episode one of Wentworth? Is it that you should never let Bea Smith loose in a stationery shop when they’re running a promotion on biros? Could it be that anyone who wears leather gloves to work is, by default, a psychopath? Maybe it’s that taking a shower is likely to get you attacked in some brutal way, every single time?
No, the lesson is simple. Never mess with Franky Doyle. People such as Jacs Holt and Simmo learned that the hard way but, now that there’s a ‘dobber’ in the mix (that’s a snitch to those unfamiliar with Aussie lingo), Franky’s rage knows no bounds, and she spent the entirety of the episode trying to flush out the person who has been feeding Joan Ferguson titbits of drug related information.
We of course know that well meaning Liz was manipulated into parting with the information by the cruel Fergy; who in turn used it to carry out Simmo’s dispatch. While Liz’s heart is always in the right place and she was just looking out for the women she has spent so much time with; she made a fatal error in trusting Joan, who wasted little time in taunting Franky that she had an informant in her midst.
When you go to a party and make a complete moron of yourself on the dancefloor (or, in my case, become the next John Travolta) there is always that one guest who stands at the side, watching everything closely, and drinking everything in so that they can remind you for days to come of all the foolish things you did or said. Add in a dash of sadism, a spoonful of manipulation and a pair of black leather gloves, and this pretty much sums up the role of Joan ‘The Freak’ Ferguson at Wentworth Correctional Facility. She has every inmate and officer as puppets on strings which only she can delicately operate, and no matter how secretive things are, Joan will always know what’s going on and use it to her advantage.
She is deliciously wicked and beautifully twisted; everything and more that the original Joan was in Prisoner Cell Block H. The imperial stride, the efficient bun, the smooth, threatening, soft tones of voice, the small smiles and the subtle malice are all delivered to perfection by the outstanding Pamela Rabe. Joan has been busy setting Fletch and Will against each other in a long running attempt to get Fletch out of her employment and has also been moulding Vera into her perfectly obedient sidekick, but this week she focused her attentions on manipulating the prisoners in her ‘care’. Continue reading
Series Two Episode Three
You know when you have been away from home for a while, perhaps on a holiday or work trip, and you return back to hugs and good wishes? It was kind of like that in Wentworth last night, when Simone returned to the prison for another stretch. Except she was welcomed with a sexual assault, a fork in the stomach and a vicious beating that nearly ended up in a knee capping courtesy of a cue-ball wielding Boomer.
Yep, this is the crazy world of Wentworth. Once an ally of the fearsome (and much missed, as far as I am concerned) Jacs Holt, Simone was on Franky’s radar the moment she set foot back in the prison. With the drug supply emptier than Boomer’s head, the prisoners, particularly the gloriously crazy Sky, looked to Simone for their fix.
Fearing that her leadership was under threat, a desperate Franky subjected Simone to various violent attacks in order to ensure she held on to the coveted Top Dog role. This culminated in a night-time ambush in the library where Bea stopped Boomer going too far in the nick of time. Continue reading
I know that it’s easy to think that the only things Australia has brought for us is Fosters beer, Kylie Minogue and the questionable Home and Away, but occasionally, those Aussies can deliver something that is top notch.
In fact, the subtly hidden in the depths of Channel 5 gritty prison drama, Wentworth, goes beyond top-notch; it’s an absolute masterpiece, with sharp writing, moving storytelling and some of the best dramatic performing I have ever seen.
I will try to avoid spoilers as best I can in this post but the series closed in a similar grim fashion to the way it opened, with an adversary of the women of Wentworth impaled with a sharp implement and the ten episodes of drama in between was just as gripping.
Based to a heavy degree on the 80’s cult classic, Prisoner Cell Block H, Wentworth replaces the shaky sets and hammy acting with a modern reimagining of the tough life in a ruthless women’s prison and it doesn’t pull any punches. Continue reading