Australian television was considerably brightened by the arrival of PRISONER CELL BLOCK H in 1979. Although the activities in a women's prison might sound like grim subject matter, the show carried a neat dose of kitsch value, thanks to some poorly constructed sets, and storylines which were often unfathomable. But this was coupled with an innovative--and daring for the time--use of lesbian characters, violence, and drug mishaps. Presented here are some of the best episodes from the show, beginning with four installments from the early days, which helped establish some of the key characters. Secondly, a major plot development is ushered in via a terrorist siege that took place in the prison, and finally the conclusion of the show is rendered in dramatic style, with a huge riot breaking out. Fun and dramatic in equal measures, PRISONER CELL BLOCK H attracts a hardcore legion of devotees who will doubtless be delighted with this 25th anniversary celebration of the show.
Prisoner: Cell Block H
, a drama set in a women's prison called Wentworth Detention Centre, ran for eight seasons on Australian television, from 1979 to 1986, resulting in an astonishing 692 hourlong episodes. Among these were 12 choice segments included in this DVD sampler set, selected to give a strong impression of the series' accomplishments and many changes over passing years. During its run, the show was also a big hit in the United Kingdom and, for a time, had a cult following in America. U.S. fans didn't get to see much of the ratcheted-up intensity, darker characters, and added violence that evolved during Prisoner
's middle years and beyond. Now that's possible with this anthology.
Curious newcomers, too, will find much to discover in the 25th Anniversary Collector's Edition. Prisoner concerns the lives and dramas of sundry inmates, guards, and prison officials at Wentworth. The earliest episode here, from season 3, serves as a useful introduction to the program's cast and tone. The story entails a prison break gone horribly wrong for several women trapped inside a sewer; meanwhile, authorities jostle over control of Wentworth and fend off rising dissatisfaction from the guards' union over working conditions. The episode makes clear that Prisoner is about varieties of power among and between authorities and incarcerated women, about small acts of kindness, sadness, frustration, and unbearable displays of ego and corruption. Those themes extend to the other, scattered episodes in this box set, all of which involve Prisoner's most colorful and memorable character (introduced in season 4), a sadistic, lesbian guard named Joan "the Freak" Ferguson (Maggie Kirkpatrick). As the years go by, Joan appears to have a brutal, conniving, thieving hand in everything, encountering resistance only from the strongest of the inmates, and surviving assaults, terrorist attacks, and much else until receiving her comeuppance in the series finale. If this collection, which quickly grows on a viewer, is a fair representation of the legacy of Prisoner: Cell Block H, one can only hope to see more in the future. --Tom Keogh