How Wentworth held us captive until the very end
Wentworth finished filming – forever – on September 4. A few days later the set, in the western suburbs of Melbourne, started being demolished.
“The Victorian Government have plans for that site, we always had to move out of there this year,” Wentworth producer Jo Porter tells SMARTdaily. “But we’ve relocated sites once before (the show’s first three seasons were filmed in Coburg.)”
The big question – is this really the end of Wentworth? The show returned to film 20 episodes to bring the hit drama to a conclusion. The first 10 episodes (filmed pre COVID) aired this year – episode 10 airs tomorrow – with the final 10 (filmed under COVID-safe restrictions) airing in 2021.
While the show’s intensely passionate fanbase still have another year of episodes to come, there’s already wishful thinking from fans about a spin-off.
Even Pamela Rabe, who returned as Joan ‘The Freak’ Ferguson this season told Smart “to be honest I think there’s still life in it yet. I wish those stories would keep going.”
Porter is leaving the door slightly open for some kind of continuation in the future.
“Never say never,” Porter says. “It feels like this chapter of the show has finished. This season has had a big spike in audience domestically. We’re getting new audiences all the time. There’s a few characters who survive, there are possibilities but at the moment we’re focusing on this being a beautiful bow to draw a close to this chapter.”
Next year’s final episode will be episode 100 – Wentworth began in 2013 as a reimagining of Prisoner, which ran between 1979 and 1986 with a remarkable 692 episodes – back then they’d film between 80 and 100 episodes a year.
“I just don’t know in the world we’re were in now if we’ll see a drama get 100 episodes again,” Porter says. “Some only do short orders six or eight episodes.”
Porter says there’s “absolutely heartbreaking, jaw-dropping and exhilarating” moments to come not only in this year’s season finale but the final 10 episodes. The show was written to end on its own terms – something it had done that once before in last year’s series, with the ending tweaked after its lifespan was extended by fan demand.
“Knowing when to put down the brush is an absolute art. We are going out on a high. That also means if down the track we come up with a brilliant reason to examine a character or a different part of the world we haven’t explored because you’ve gone out on a high there’s the chance to potentially come back but we’re not committing to that just yet. It’s too soon.”
This current season has seen the return of Pamela Rabe as Joan ‘The Freak’ Ferguson, who had been buried alive in season five.
“Putting the sods of soil on that timber box, I don’t think anyone was entirely resolved that was the last we wanted to see of Joan Ferguson,” Porter says. “There was this bold kernel of an idea to bring her back. To find reasons why she could possible survive that burial. We thought this isn’t jumping the shark.
“Pam (Rabe) being the consummate professional wanted to hear how she could come back, she’s such an incredible guardian of that character, if she was comfortable we were OK with it and it was going to play.”
Kate Jenkinson, who plays Allie Novak, is already mourning the end of Wentworth – her character has a pivotal scene in this year’s finale.
“I always knew it’d be really difficult for me to let go of this show, it’s been so rewarding for me. All good stories have to find their natural end. I think Wentworth has found that, but it doesn’t make it any easier to walk off that set for the final time knowing you won’t be back.
“I spent my final weeks on set spontaneously bursting into tears. I’m grieving the end of that character, the end of the show. More overwhelming than the grief is how grateful I am to be a part of it. It’s been a golden age for women in Australian TV, I feel like I’ve had a little piece of history in my career.”
She’s also aware that the fanbase will mean there’s Wentworth Conventions in her future.
“The legacy of Wentworth will live on, long after the final episodes. I get messages on Instagram all the time from people saying they only just discovered the show. I’m incredibly proud of that show, I’m just as much of a fan of the show as the viewers. It won’t be over – well, ever – I think. This show will be part of me forever, which I am grateful for. It’s going to take a long time to feel like I’m out of prison.”
Wentworth Redemption, Foxtel Showcase, Tuesday, 8.30pm
BEHIND THE BARS BONUS
Is Wentworth worried about keeping next year’s final ever episode’s ending secret?
Jo Porter: “No. There’s real respect with the whole production team and cast, they know how delicious surprises are for audiences and they absolutely protect them. Bea Smith dying was a huge reveal, that was kept confidential.”
The final days of Wentworth
Jo Porter: “It felt so anticlimactic. We were in Sydney so we didn’t get a chance to simply be together. We did a Zoom into the lunchroom for the speeches. We felt like we were a little bit part of it but it’s nothing like being there. We’re still slightly in denial. The team are sending me videos of the sets being demolished. We’re still editing the final two episodes, which will air next year. When I see what is the going to be the final frame of the series I will feel very sentimental. When we had the last cast read through we did that via Zoom, that was another milestone. The final script meeting. The final read-through. The final day of filming. The final edit. It becomes a little more real, but we still have 10 episodes to go to air next year. I won’t really feel like it’s done until the final credits run on episode 10 next year. Then it’ll be truly done.”
Keeping some of the Wentworth sets
Jo Porter: “We’ve kept a few things aside, there’s discussion with ACMI in Melbourne about adding pieces from Wentworth to their new building. 100 episodes don’t just come alone, it’s been an important part of Victorian TV production for the last eight years.”
Kate Jenkinson on Glam Allie’s 2020 glow up
“A lot of people don’t realise but at least in Australian prisons you can get hair dye, make up and nail polish. I went into Dame Phyllis Frost prison all those years ago to do research, pretty much all the women I saw were wearing make up, had their hair and nails done. I guess that’s one of the few things you can do for yourself to make you feel a little bit human and show your own personal style. So you can definitely get a hold of beautifying products in prison. To Allie, I think she probably wanted to have some kind of a physical transformation to prove she was different and she’d grown up and was a force to be reckoned with. Personally I think Allie doesn’t feel that about herself, she is still the scared and doubting girl we’ve always known her to be but she’s doing a really good job of pretending that she’s tough and in control. A cute little hairdo has helped her along the way.”
Kate Jenkinson on spin-off ideas
“The brilliant thing about a concept like Wentworth is that it really is perennial. You can keep that concept going forever. A prison is the perfect setting for new characters to come in, old ones to come out. Literally anything can happen. Who knows? The story can continue. I wouldn’t imagine anyone expected Prisoner to be rebirthed when that ended. So maybe there’ll be a new incarnation of Wentworth.”