Played Bound so many times the picture runs in slow mo? Look no further than the British TV series Bad Girls (Shed Productions).
Bad Girls is a raw and confronting women’s prison drama set inside the walls of HMP Larkhall. It’s like a pommie version of Prisoner — only better because the lesbian themes and identities are overt.
The series first screened in the UK in 1999 and ran for eight seasons finishing up in 2006. While it’s not a new series, Bad Girls certainly didn’t receive the media attention in Australia that The L Word has enjoyed
This is a shame. In many ways the story lines explored in Bad Girls are more complex and sensitive than The L Word. From series one the viewer is introduced to a range of shocking scenes and stories. We’re introduced to a rebellious tomboy lesbian Denny Blood (Alicya Eyo) who has a crush on drug dealer, Shell Dockley (Debra Stephenson). A woman has a miscarriage in her cell and Nikki Wade (Mandana Jones) the lipstick lesbian is stripped searched.
Other themes and issues addressed throughout the series include a heroin junkie’s battle with addiction, sexual abuse, domestic violence, bigamy, homophobia, love between inmates and prison staff, women being separated from their children and a gay governor’s difficulties being out at work.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. The script is punchy and flows with that unique British wit, slang and sarcasm. There’s as much warmth and accidental comedy as tragedy. The range of lesbian identities and strong female characters is broad and shows a diversity of relationships among women, both in friendship and love.
The central romantic relationship between Nikki Wade, a prisoner serving a life sentence, and newly graduated wing governor, Helen Stewart (Simone Lahbib), is beautiful and a highlight of series one to three.
Other central women characters include the amusing Sylvia Hollamby (Helen Fraser), an old-school cynical civil servant who believes in punishment not rehabilitation. And one of the most impressive acting performances comes from The Top Dog gangster moll turned mother figure, Yvonne Atkins, played by Linda Henry. Series five teases us with Atkins becoming the centre of attraction for two women.
Apart from Jim Fenner the misogynist prison guard, the other dominant male character is Neil Grayling (series four, James Gaddas). Grayling is a gay Governing Governor who can’t come out at work and concocts a fake marriage to the desperate and dateless prison guard Di Barker (Tracy Wilkinson). This plot line drags on for too long and becomes frustrating!
Bad Girls isn’t marketed as lesbian television. Its reported success in the UK is because of its attraction to a broad audience. As the series progress some of the confronting subject matter does fade.
That aside, I’m a huge fan and try to use the term ‘stupid cow’ and laugh like Dockley as much as possible. The dialogue is engaging, the acting performances convincing and there’s loads of eye candy.
First published in FUSE magazine July 2009 (Canberra, Australia)