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TV preview: Wentworth Prison | What Remains

No Place Like Home. Picture: Channel 5

No Place Like Home. Picture: Channel 5

  • by andrea mullaney
 

He used to bring me roses … I wish he would again”. But that was in the 1980s and things were different then.

Wentworth Prison Wednesday, Channel 5, 10pm

What Remains Sunday, BBC1, 9pm

Yes, when Prisoner: Cell Block H was a cult favourite, frequently mocked for its shoogly sets and ill-fitting dungarees, particularly by continuity announcers as it bounced around random late-night ITV slots, then later in the 1990s with repeats on the newly-created Channel 5.

The popularity of the Australian show here spawned stage versions, a musical and personal appearance tours. There was a particularly loyal gay fanbase, perhaps because – before Brookside’s lesbian kiss, or Xena: Warrior Princess, or The L Word – it was about the only portrayal of gay women on TV.

A lot has changed. Channel 5 now promotes what it calls an “edgy, sexy and graphic re-imagining” in prime time, complete with solid sets and a new theme tune.

WENTWORTH PRISON begins with Bea Smith being admitted to the detention centre: she is not the tough top dog so memorably portrayed by Val Lehman, but a frightened newbie; other old characters like Franky Doyle, Lizzie, Doreen and Vera “Vinegar Tits” Bennett are also there in very different forms. In other words, this aims to stand alone as a believable, gritty drama, closer to HBO’s Oz than ITV’s Bad Girls.

And it succeeds: the cast are strong, the script good and there’s a sense that all involved are committed to playing it as realistically as they can. Yet the best moment comes when an older character croons that original theme song, On The Inside – in a very ironic context.

WHAT REMAINS opens with a sinister image and then a grisly one. A young woman unpacks her shopping and then pops upstairs to investigate a noise. By the time her mummified body is discovered a few years later, the mouldy messages look unrecognisable. So does she.

As if that isn’t grim enough, it turns out that no-one missed her and no-one much cares – except, of course, for the “One Copper Who Can’t Let it Go”.

He’s played by David Threlfall and the careworn, dogged DI Len Harper (who retires during the first episode) is a thousand miles away from the Shameless role which has tied up this fine actor for years. Harper pursues the case partly because he doesn’t really want to stop working and partly because, as a widower, he can see himself in the friendless, unmissed victim.

Recent, much-talked about dramas Broadchurch, Top of the Lake and Southcliffe have all explored the effect of crime on a small community; this one focuses even smaller, on the residents of just one block of flats who, as with most of us, don’t spend all our time with our neighbours. Yet one will obviously turn out to have known the dead woman a little better and all of them have secrets to be conveniently uncovered over four episodes.

Once the initial gore is out of the way, this becomes an effective, intriguing mystery – particularly if you’ve ever lived in a tenement.

A Touch Of Cloth II: Undercover Cloth

Sunday, Sky1, 9pm

Return of Charlie Brooker’s ruthless parody of every cop show cliché, in which John Hannah and Suranne Jones strive desperately to keep straight faces.

Storyville: Richard Pryor, Omit The Logic

Sunday, BBC 4, 10pm

The definitive portrait of the man whose iconoclastic stand-up changed comedy, but who led a famously troubled life. Everyone from Mel Brooks to Dave Chappelle pays homage, while there is unseen footage of Pryor, below, working a stage as only he could.

Secret Knowledge: The Art Of Witchcraft

Thursday, BBC2,10pm

Artist Lachlan Goudie looks at the history of witches in art – tying in with the current Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art exhibition – and in particular his own father’s obsession with painting a figure from Tam O’Shanter who was both muse and demon.

 

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