Foxtel has announced the cast for its upcoming production Wentworth, a modern rewrite of the classic series Prisoner.
The 10-episode series, which begins production in Melbourne next week, will star New Zealand-born actress Danielle Cormack (East West 101, Rake, Underbelly: Razor) in the key role of Bea Smith, the character initially made famous by Val Lehman in the original Prisoner series.
Lehman played ‘top dog’ Smith for 400 episodes from 1979 to 1984 and collected three TV Week Logies for her work on the series. Wentworth will focus on suburban wife and mother Smith’s arrival into Wentworth Detention Centre.
The series will also feature Aaron Jeffery (Underbelly: Badness, McLeod’s Daughters, Neighbours) as prison officer Matthew “Fletch” Fletcher.
Wentworth will feature a number of character names familiar to fans of Prisoner, but that mostly take on new personas to their original counterparts. Meg Jackson, the prison officer played by Elspeth Ballantyne in Prisoner, is now the name of Wentworth Detention Centre’s governor played by Catherine McClements (Water Rats, The Secret Life Of Us, Rush, Tangle). Erica Davidson, the original prison governor played by Patsy King, is now a lawyer played by Leeanna Walsman.
Viewer favourite Lizzie Birdsworth, played by Sheila Florance (pictured) in the original, is now Liz Birdsworth played by Celia Ireland. And Doreen Anderson, formerly played by Colette Mann, is now an Aboriginal woman played by newcomer Shareena Clanton.
Franky Doyle, the aggressive lesbian inmate played by Carol Burns in Prisoner‘s earliest episodes, is now a “Gen-Y” lesbian played by Nicole Da Silva (Rush).
Other cast members include Kate Atkinson (Seachange, Offspring, Rush), Kris McQuade (Skyways, Packed To The Rafters, Killing Time) and Robbie Magasiva (from New Zealand series Shortland Street).
The re-writing of character names into new roles is an unusual move that may only seem as nonsensical to fans of the original series, and will likely go unnoticed by the show’s new generation of viewers.
Foxtel’s Executive Director of Television Brian Walsh welcomed the new production:
“Wentworth will be bold Australian storytelling with this remarkable group of actors portraying the rivalries, power struggles and heartbreak of prison life in a drama tailor-made for the subscription television audience.”
Wentworth will be filmed at a purpose-built set in the Melbourne suburb of Clayton over the next four months. It is expected to screen on Foxtel’s Soho channel in 2013.
The original Prisoner is currently screening weeknights on Foxtel channel 111Hits.
Network Ten had announced plans to develop a prison drama, Inside Out, for its 2011 schedule but the project never eventuated.