We meet Bea on what is arguably the worst day of her life, when she is remanded to the Wentworth women's prison, although living with a physically abusive husband has probably produced a fair enough number of bad days to warrant Bea trying to put him down for good. Bea is terrified of her surroundings, but she'll have to acclimate quickly if she hopes to survive. Her block is run by Franky Doyle (Nicole Da Silva), a tough girl who rules with an iron fist, but looks out for her own "family," and she expects to assimilate Bea into the fold, by forcing her to do a few things she doesn't want to, which lands Bea in more hot water with the prison brass.
But the block is not all bad. There's Liz Birdsworth (Celia Ireland), a former drunk with a heart of gold who is now the peer worker that helps the new women to adjust; there's Doreen Anderson (Shareena Clanton), who is sort of the moral compass of the group, although she has her share of tight spots; there's Sue "Boomer" Jenkins (Katrina Milosevic), Franky's right hand and her muscle; along with a handful of others. On the other side of the prison is the block where Jacqueline "Jacs" Holt (Kris McQuade) stays, and she pretty much runs the whole prison. She has just gotten out of solitary (referred to as the slots) and returns to gen pop with a vengeance, especially since she doesn't appreciate that Franky has tried to move in on her territory while she was away. Jacs and Franky will often clash, with Bea getting caught in the middle more often than she'd like.
Then there are those who run the prison from the other side of the bars. The Governor is Meg Jackson (Catherine McClements), who is also married to guard Will Jackson (Robbie Magasiva). She is later replaced by Erica Davidson (Leeanna Walsman), whose policies lean more towards reform rather than punishment. The other main guards include Matthew "Fletch" Fletcher (Aaron Jeffrey), a former soldier who suffers from PTSD and has a few secrets; shy Vera Bennett (Kate Atkinson), who is the Deputy Governor and has a crush on Fletch; and finally Linda Miles (Jacqueline Brennan), who is Vera's friend.
Bea struggles to cope with prison life and the gang war that rages on between Jacs and Franky, all the while she waits for her trial and she spends all of her time worrying about her teen-aged daughter Debbie (Georgia Flood), with only her crappy husband Harry to care for her. Since Debbie is Bea's Achilles heel, Jacs will often use her to weaken Bea.
We get to see many of the backstories for the women throughout the episodes, and this does remind me of Orange is the New Black, and I can't help but wonder if sexy, tough and tattooed lesbian Franky was the inspiration for Ruby Rose joining the cast of the Netflix hit. However, as I said before, Wentworth: Season 1 is dark, dark, dark. There's no comedy to be found here, only sadness and despair that forges strength and brutality. Watching Bea change and learn the ropes at the prison over the 10 episode arc is a sight to behold and one that is sometimes hard to watch, but compelling nonetheless.
I am really interested to see where this series goes, especially based on the season finale, which is absolutely incredible. All of the characters have things that are interesting about them. Some you love, some you hate, and some... well, you just can't quite decide. If you want more information on the characters, the actors that play them, and the show in general, well Wentworth: Season 1 is chock full of special features to give you that info (some 2.5 hrs. worth). There are cast and actor interviews aplenty, behind the scenes featurettes on camera work, locations, specific characters and scenes, and a photo gallery. This is the most special features I've even encountered in an Acorn release and, for those wanting more after the last episode, they'll find it on this DVD release.
If you like Australian TV and you dig a good drama, check out Wentworth: Season 1. The acting is fantastic and the story is compelling. I still prefer Orange is the New Black just because of the comedic aspect, but you don't have to choose one or the other. Both are good female-centric prison dramas that have interesting mysteries going on in the background and great storylines, and I was thrilled to see that Wentworth is in its Fifth Season, so there is plenty more to see after this season.