Monday, September 25, 2006 by Matthew Rudd
Contrast the two storylines in our main soaps right now involving the aftermath of childbirth.
As ever, while EastEnders chooses to go with shock tactics at the expense of relatable drama, allowing the viewer no respite from the idea that all family events have to be tinged with tragedy, the glitterati on Coronation Street have got it spot on. The decision to give the fluttery, angelic character of Claire Peacock a dark side through the onset of acute post-natal depression has proved inspired from all the angles with a box to tick – it is well-researched, acted from the textbook by Julia Haworth, able to educate the viewer without going for the jugular of extremities, and has been approached with an air of developed subtlety, allowing the viewer to guess or anticipate what lay ahead.
The journey from maternity ward to mental hospital has developed magnificently. The character’s initial inexhaustible ability to juggle motherhood with dinner parties and redecoration, while maintaining her public smile; through to her defensive, spiteful argument over her condition with her desperate husband while at the same time shoving the poor mite in front of a lorry, has been compelling, moving and entirely followable, even for the unitiated.
While a storyline of giving a newborn baby Down Syndrome is not dramatically heretical, even in soap, it still prompts righteous reactions of favouring downbeat and depressing storylines without any idea that something positive can emerge. And if the baby, born to Billy and Honey, is to develop as a character, then an actress with that particular condition is going to be required. Of course, EastEnders won’t go that far. You can bet your life that mother and baby, father and baby, or all three (but definitely the baby) will be written out within 12 months, allowing a storyline to peter out in the name of short-termism. There’s no doubt that the actors playing the parents will suffer in drama to high standards, but there doesn’t seem to be a way out that doesn’t involve some kind of twee or predictable escapism.
Coronation Street’s angle on the perils of bringing children into the world has, by contrast, allowed the baby to remain safe from winning ratings and has brought a darker, colder and more sinister side to a character who was of a much sunnier and fluffier disposition up to the day she brought the mite home. Post-natal depression has been discussed on all the radio phone-ins and doleite TV blabs as a consequence, but wouldn’t have been had the plot not carried authenticity in both its research and execution. Nobody’s talked about Down Syndrome half as much.
And of course, as Claire and Ashley Peacock and their immediates dig deep into their souls for their art of shade, the viewers get the required light which has been stamped through every Coronation Street episode since day one. The hoots of laughter via Norris and Rita’s petty arguments over freebie pens have eased the viewer’s pangs of sympathy further down the cobbles. EastEnders does shade rather too thoroughly, if not necessarily well; their light always consists of someone having a do at the Vic with a piano out, and even then there’s usually a life-changing phone call for whoever happens to be singing.