Coronation Street (2016) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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At a time when it might be expected that the soaps might be easing off the gas before unleashing their big autumn story lines upon us Coronation Street have decided to explode over the last week with the demise of Kylie Platt.  I liked Kylie and thought she was brilliantly played by Paula Lane, who in a way filled the gap that was created in the programme by the departure of her sister Becky, played by the ubiquitous Katherine Kelly  but, and there’s a big but here, I did not want to know that she was being killed off.

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Paula Lane (Kylie) and Katherine Kelly (Becky)

I’d seen online teasers suggesting character was about to meet its maker but had chosen not to click to find out more.  In the queue in my local Co-op my eyes found themselves latching onto a whole row of TV/women’s magazines saying “Kylie Dies!” Why do people need to be told before the showing of the programme?  It really is one of my television bug-bears.  When Coronation Street aired its last live episode in which bad boy Callum was killed off, people were full of praise, largely because “they did not know that was going to happen”.  I thought then that a lesson might be learnt and that fans did not need to be spoon-fed storylines months in advance.  Is it because programme makers fear we will not watch if we don’t know what is happening? But why watch something when you know all that is about to occur, anyway?

Here’s a revolutionary idea- don’t give away big storylines and let us watch and those that have missed out can find out by word of mouth and watch on catch-up (which apparently most of us do anyway, according to programme makers).  The casual audience can still be picked up and the programme fans can get the full enjoyment of the programme.

Luckily, on the day of transmission I didn’t see the copy of the “Daily Mirror” which, with all that is going on in the world, decided to go with a photo on its front page of Kylie sprawled on the cobbles before the programme was transmitted.  Right, rant over (but don’t get me starting on BBC swapping the tennis over without notice when Andy Murray plays from BBC2 to BBC1 meaning that those recording the tennis got “The One Show” and “Masterchef” and fans of those shows got the tennis.)

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My motive for this review is to highlight one of the most under-rated actors on British television who has played an absolute blinder this week, Jack P Shepherd.  Jack often appears on shortlists of soap awards but is sidelined by the genre’s big-hitters (usually Danny Dyer or whoever is the central male character in “Eastenders” at the time).  He has been a regular in the programme for over 16 years, since he was 12 years old.  The eagle-eyed amongst you would have spotted him earlier than that.  I’ve mentioned this before in my review of Happy Valley  but back in 2000 the BBC series “Clocking Off” had an excellent episode in its first series called “Yvonne’s Story” which had “Happy Valley” future stars Siobhan Finneran and Sarah Lancashire as friends with both Jack P. Shepherd and Tina O’Brien playing Lancashire’s children.  Obviously the chemistry was there from the start as soon afterwards both were cast to play the Platt children, and both are still playing these parts 16 years later.

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David and Sarah meet a royal visitor

At the end of last Friday’s episode we left Kylie, stabbed in the street following a  scuffle outside the kebab shop and before the 8.30 episode we were warned that we might find scenes upsetting and that was certainly right.  I cannot remember when “Coronation Street” was as upsetting as the second episode that evening (and I’m even including Hayley Cropper’s assisted suicide).  David cradled Kylie as life slipped away in what was a tour-de-force for both actors.  From the opening moment when David charged down the surprisingly deserted cobbled street to clutch hold of his injured wife the tension never let up.  David’s shock and lack of comprehension, aided by a lot of close-ups, was palpable and even though the A-list of the Street appeared to hover around the scene the most accomplished performances were from Shepherd and Lane and when the life ebbed away there was a bestial howl which was almost Shakespearean in its intensity.  “Coronation Street” is often compared to Shakespeare and Dickens as all human life is there and it is one of Britain’s most important cultural markers.    Two great things about these particular characters have been their ability to use humour, Jack is one of the funniest characters on the show, even if his humour is often in the darker realms and Kylie’s words to him that “as far as doctors go, you’d make a great hairdresser” at such a dreadful moment could not help but bring about a smile.  With Gail (Helen Worth) and Audrey ( the great Sue Nicholls) arriving the scene played out with the intimacy of characters who had spent many hours together- with the relationship between David and his mum always particularly strong- as it must be in real life the things these two actors have shared.  This is where continuing drama can shine above drama serials- there is so much shared history, going back years.  The ensemble acting which the Coronation Street “families” can produce is so often sublime.

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I’ve just watched the culmination of this death scene again for the benefit of this review and tears have once again filled my eyes.  This does not happen to me with television very often and it’s probably because part of me can still remember the pre-teen who went off the rails after his pet rabbit, Barney, died.  What will happen now he has lost the love of his life?

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We watched David sitting on the sidelines as paramedics tried to revive his wife and, almost too painfully, lying down next to her.  In the ensuing episodes we have seen absolutely appropriate reactions – the shock, the telling of the children, the anger of discovering the man who killed Kylie and nearly battering his head in with an iron bar.  We all know how dangerous David can be.

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This is the man who pushed his mother down the stairs, who has smashed all the windscreens of cars in the street and whose past has been decidedly troubled.  We haven’t seen Psycho David for some years but he might not be too far away over the coming months.  Whatever the scriptwriters have in store for the character we know that Jack P Shepherd will shine.  On Wednesday’s episode the couple were reunited in the funeral home –which I don’t think in the 55 year history of the programme had ever been done before in a scene which was almost too difficult to watch – once again in close-up to register every reaction on David’s face and switching to the now expressionless one of Kylie.  Difficult television- yes, but fantastic television.

David and Kylie

Comedy character Keith Lemon always refers to Jack as “the little northern cocky bastard” and that is part of his character but it is time to salute one of the best performers on television who is has been absolutely pitch perfect over the last few episodes.

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“Coronation Street” is aired on ITV and these episodes should still, at time of writing, be available on ITV Hub catch-up services.

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