Australian crime drama ‘Wentworth’ follows the story of Bea Smith, who is sent to prison for the attempted murder of her abusive husband. The dark and gritty tone of ‘Wentworth’ adds to its realism, along with its myriad of characters that deal with physical, emotional, and interpersonal issues. The series doesn’t shy away from the harsh truths of prison life and the power struggles that the inmates must enter in order to survive. So, is the show based on a true story? Or is it simply the product of a fantastic imagination? Let’s find out!
Is Wentworth Based on a True Story?
No, ‘Wentworth’ is not based on a true story. It takes its source material from ‘Prisoner,’ Reg Watson’s popular 1980s cult classic soap opera that deals with the controversial topic of feisty and troubled women behind bars. ‘Prisoner’ ran for eight seasons between 1979 and 1986. Interestingly, the series is, in turn, loosely based on the 1970s British show ‘Within These Walls,’ which revolves around the staff at a women’s prison.
‘Wentworth’ follows in the steps of its predecessors by prioritizing female-centric prison stories. However, it updates the original material to make it more relevant to contemporary times. By researching prison environments and borrowing stories from diverse real-life individuals, the show attempts to bring a sense of authenticity to its premise.
“In terms of research, we were very fortunate because, at the very beginning of our forward planning, the entire writing team had the opportunity to go to Dame Phyllis Frost women’s correctional center here in Melbourne,” said script producer Marcia Gardner when she talked about the show’s second installment. “We got to see every single unit of that prison, including the management unit. We also got to meet many of the prisoners and staff, many of whom very generously shared their stories with us, and many of those experiences kind of ended up being the inspiration for a lot of the storylines in season two.”
The storylines in ‘Wentworth’ may be fictional, but they accurately capture the desperation of prisoners forced to live a life of solitude and predetermined routines and staff tasked with the lives of others. The characters often lash out, reaching a boiling point because of their everyday ordeal. The series explores the importance of interpersonal relationships in a confined space, with many characters relying on each other for physical and emotional support. It also dives deep into the dangerous cycles of physical abuse and sexual harassment that fester behind the walls of detention centers.
Additionally, ‘Wentworth’ manages to seamlessly add diversity and dimensions to its women-focused ensemble. With women of different races, age groups, backgrounds, and sexualities, the prison series explores unique interactions and ideologies. “The Indigenous characters aren’t there just because they’re Indigenous, they’re there because their characters need people first of all [rather] than token kind of characters,” said Bernard Curry (Jake Stewart) at the Wentworth Season 8: Cast & Crew Panel 1 during the AACTA ScreenFest 2020.
However, the series is still a product of imagination and not fully accurate in its portrayal of Australian prisons, which harrowingly have a large number of minorities unfairly incarcerated. However, it is a step in the right direction when it comes to unapologetically addressing the harsh truths of prison life as well as highlighting the struggles of diverse women who find themselves put away for good.
Shows like ‘Bad Girls,’ ‘Orange Is The New Black,’ ‘Locked Up,’ ‘Clink,’ and ‘The Yard’ also document the experiences of women behind bars. ‘Wentworth’ certainly tops any list of shows combining themes of women-centric stories and prison. So, although the series is not based on someone’s personal experiences, it draws its realism from its confined setting and multidimensional characters with nuanced backstories.
Read More: Where is Wentworth Filmed?