Coronation Street

Monday, January 27, 2003 by

With Soapland’s favourite pantomime villain de jour having committed his foul, dastardly deeds it now remains to be seen whether the writers and actors of Coronation Street have the will and also the ability to maintain this much welcomed (and, to be truthful, desperately needed) rich vein of form. The pre-eminent soap story since the pumping of lead into the turgid torso of Phil Mitchell, the performance of Brian Capron has elevated Coronation Street from amiable, almost gritty but always homely Mancunian dreamland into modern day, “it’s grim up North”, sub-Salford reality. Whereas we previously fretted over the righteous state of Barm Cakes in the cafe and the quality of Audrey’s rinses’, we are now positively entranced by Dirty Dick’s each and every move. As the previous reviewer of this programme so artfully stated, the character of Richard Hillman is indeed the best thing to have happened to The Street in years.

Tonight’s double header managed to build up the tension still further, with another mesmerizing and electrifying performance from our malevolent anti-hero lighting up the small screen more than Blackpool Illuminations ever could. Holding centre stage at the pulpit and with a nation in the palm of his oily hands, Capron delivered the goods – and how. His oration was delivered with poise, panache and a measured authoritative precision not witnessed down Weatherfield way in decades. Delivering a sermon of bilious, calculating evil doublespeak that could have taught Eric Blair a thing or two on hypocrisy, Capron with imperious majesty raised the bar for soap villains. This was a truly great scene and one that will feature heavily in the Corrie annals for years to come. Beautifully written (not something that can often be said for dramatic moments on The Street) and wonderfully shot, it was a joy to watch.

Splitting the two episodes with the “I have a confession to make” line was predictable but still nonetheless gripping. It provided us with a wonderful finale to part one and left us gasping for part two. The trick here was to ensure that Richard’s oratory from the pulpit was nothing less than brilliant – and it easily surpassed mere brilliance. Both episodes hinged totally on this one scene as did, arguably, the entire storyline of recent times. Capron’s performance allowed us to move on from the murder itself and into the mind of a murderer and his fractured reality. The words delivered engaged the viewer morally, forcing us to face the possibility that he was, indeed, sorry for his crimes. A wonderfully counterbalanced performance graveside from Audrey served only to underline the significance and excellence of the episodes.

Kudos is also due to Roy Hudd. His performances have been continually of a supremely high standard, well crafted and beautifully observed. His unassuming manner has blended him into The Street seamlessly, and the character of Archie is a delight to behold. Thankfully, the excesses of John Savident are tamed when they share a scene – something that could do with being transferred to the Ashley/Fred relationship. Whilst the lad who plays Ashley is a more than competent and maturing actor, his skill lies in reacting to dialogue and characters around him. Forced to lead a scene, he flounders slightly – something noticeable of late given his storyline. Yet reacting to Fred’s tears last night, he performed admirably and with subtle dignity. The ensuing paternity question storyline should undoubtedly be used to allow him to react, and display his talents accordingly – as beautifully displayed in the teary scene he shared with Emily (memo to self – if ever suffer severe head trauma, must go to Weatherfield General. Recovery of both Emily and Sarah-Louise has been astonishing!)

As an ensemble, the cast of Corrie have always been far earthier, identifiable and more engaging than their Albert Square counterparts – a characteristic which has been slowly seeping away in recent times. Yet it has taken this wonderfully excessive storyline to bring them all together again after a run of plots involving teenage pregnancies, joyriding, gambling addiction and good old-fashioned lust that may all have been rooted in reality but were, frankly, utterly anodyne and boring. The Hillman story arc has gloriously arrested this seemingly terminal decline and gone some way to reasserting Corrie in its rightful role as the pre-eminent soap in the land. Forget the pathetically pluralistic phrase “watercooler moment” which is uttered by those devoid of soul or imagination. Last night provided drama that will be discussed at bus stops, pubs and greasy spoons the nation over, characters whose actions will be fiercely debated and eagerly awaited by those who talk at such places.

And so, the end is near and soon he faces the final curtain. I truly hope that the imminent departure and consequent bloodletting perpetrated by Richard Hillman is handled with the same degree of shocking outrageousness and hypnotic brilliance that has gone before. The legacy of Brian Capron is that Coronation Street has risen from a state of self-induced torpor and been completely reinvigorated with a sense of dynamism and motion that is entirely down to his performances since his introduction. The entire plot has been totally alien, one could argue, to the raison d’ĂȘtre of The Street, whose foundations are built on the tenets of practicality, ordinariness and functionality. Yet here we have the fantastic, the ludicrous and the downright outrageous occurring and we choose to be spellbound by them. The Hillman story has turned Coronation Street on its head by demolishing the wall of constrictive conventionality and turning what was a dull, predictable cul-de-sac into an avenue of possibilities ripe for exploration. Let’s hope that the scriptwriters read the road map correctly and choose to venture forth into uncharted territories.


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