“It’s terminal…”

Monday, December 18, 2006 by

Or maybe that should be “interminable”. I adore Coronation Street and always have, but in the run-up to Christmas we have two of the most unattractive and realism-lacking storylines in progress.

Cilla Battersby-Brown has a cancer scare, gets the all-clear and then decides to pretend she remains ill after hearing of a fling between her husband and best friend via her frantic son. It may bring out the best in Sam Aiston, who as Chesney has arguably become the most gifted child actor British soap has ever uncovered, but from a viewing angle, the adult characters most deeply involved do not evoke the sympathy or likeability to make the storyline worthwhile. Cilla is a temperamental, unreliable, selfish piece of work – she is played rather well by Wendi Peters – and so it would have suited the bloodthirsty viewer more if the cancer scare had been real. 

For all the criticism Coronation Street took for killing off Alma a few years ago, it nonetheless was done with grace, dignity and no little drama. There’s no drama in Cilla as a healthy woman deceiving her own kids, but there would have been wingspreading potential if the flighty, over made-up tart without a heart had been forced into harrowing treatment. I daresay that would have been a real test of Peters’ considerable strength as an actress, as she’s done deceitful and cruel until the cows come home, but has yet to be truly vulnerable. 

The sympathy vote doesn’t go to her crass husband Les either, nor her lax best friend Yana. Unless this is a ruse to show off Aiston’s exceptional skills as the conscientious lad with the tear stains, the storyline can’t go far. And if it is, then the really brave thing to do would have been to give Chesney the illness and test the mettle of the two parental figures around him.

As for Jamie and Frankie? Crikey, even the new sexy Coronation Street of the last decade or so seems to have hit a blind spot. It’s not incest – despite what Norris might say – but it’s not dramatic either. Frankie’s brand of considerate, sassy but mature parenting and wifery makes the idea that she would sleep with her estranged husband’s son and fall in love with him quite ludicrous. It’s all leading to Debra Stephenson’s departure as Frankie, but I’d rather they’d been predictable on this occasion and sent her away with Danny to the Spanish villa. Or better still, persuaded Bradley Walsh to stay.

There is light, of course. Tracy Barlow’s fake woman-in-chains act is very cleverly written, and the performance from Kate Ford is the first time she has convinced me she is worthy of being the long-term answer to a character who has been through three previous actresses and had an unhealthy obsession with tape-playing. And the comic side of the Street remains – Norris is a diamond of pomposity; Eileen a beacon of sarcastic unfulfilment; Kirk a paragon of lovable dimwittery. 

The best soap we have needs to revert to character-based drama to match this natural comic effect, as these two big storylines are clearly a mere rush job to try to secure one family’s future with the viewers while ushering another off the radar.


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