Bad Girls: The Musical (2009, UK)
OK, OK… like the odd filmed play or opera about prison on DVD, this might not strictly fit the definition of a prison movie. But it’s not so different to many movies that are filmed in studios with disjointed plots, shoddy sets and stagy dialogue.
Filmed at the Garrick Theatre in 2007, this musical is based on the British TV drama series of the same name – and follows some the series’ story lines, it seems. Only Helen Fraser, as Prison Officer Sylvia ‘Body-bag’ Hollamby, appears in the musical in the role she played on TV.
I’m rather glad I haven’t seen the TV series. HM Prison Larkhall is portrayed as little more than a hothouse of sex and corruption and in doing so perpetuates some tired fantasies about women’s prisons. A senior Officer, Jim Fenner (David Burt), describes sex with the inmates as “one of the perks of the job” and regularly has sex with the prison’s erstwhile top dog, Shell Dockley (Nicole Faraday), and rapes a vulnerable new arrival, Rachel Hicks (Emily Aston). One youthful Officer, Justin Mattison (Chris Grearson), is propositioned by two sex-hungry veteran prostitutes and a newly arrived gangster’s wife, Yvonne Atkins (Sally Dexter), who immediately supplants Dockley as queen bee. And the young Wing Governor, Helen Stewart (Laura Rogers), falls for prisoner Nikki Wade (Caroline Head), who has been convicted of murdering a policemen who was raping her girlfriend.
It’s oddly upbeat for the ugly, sordid picture it paints of prison… maybe because it is in a way a celebration of the TV series’ greatest hits, and the drama in any prison series is invariably found in the more unpleasant bits. The old guard, Fenner and Hollamby, undermine the reformist Governor Stewart whenever they can… as does her boss who seeks Fenner out for dirt on her. Stewart, it must be said, does a fair job of adding to the intrigue and undermining her own position through her romantic entanglement with Wade. Then things get even uglier when the newcomer Hicks suicides after being raped by Fenner, and the prisoners stop work, riot and go on a hunger strike.
But forget the dark themes, the show’s producers seem to be saying, tra la la ?, we shall sing lively songs of protection rackets, officers’ dubious ‘jailcraft’, unmet sexual desire, being a ‘slut in a rut’ and having to decide between the personal benefit one gets from a sexual relationship with a sleazy Prison Officer and entrapping and exposing him for the greater good. Tra la ?. “Don’t call me greedy ‘cos these girls are needy,” sings the lecherous Fenner.
To be fair, there is a mix of more reflective moments as well. And I expect that the clash between the campy musical format and those dark themes is intended to be blackly humorous rather than simply incongruous; perhaps you either get it or you don’t.
Posted on August 2nd, 2015 at 8:18 pm. Updated on September 19th, 2015 at 10:45 pm.