EastEnders: Social realism or out of step with modern Britain?
It started back in 1975 with one of Hilda Ogden's fags. Then her Stan drew me in with his dodgy trash. And by the time of the needle incident in Mike Baldwin's factory, I was hooked. Before long I had moved on from Corrie to EastEnders; the newer, harder stuff. It took me 18 years to get clean again without having to resort to soaps.
That was until three weeks ago, when I went to see Tom Ford's debut movie, A Single Man. Some have enthused about Colin Firth's performance, but I couldn't get past what a dead ringer he was for Ken Barlow. In some shots he was quite clearly Ken. And that upset me. Why was Firth/Barlow making merry with Julianne Moore? What about Deirdre?
I tried to put it out of my mind, but work didn't help. All around the BBC there are posters promoting EastEnders' 25th anniversary. It was all too much; I buckled.
Last night I watched EastEnders for the first time in years. It's billed as social-realist drama; aimed to reflect the truth of modern living, albeit in a condensed and dramatic manner. And it is clearly a successful formula, if your measurement for success is audience figures. But has it been a true reflection of London's East End over the past quarter-century?
It has dealt with some very big issues such as Aids and breast cancer but, as Mark Lawson asks, writing in the Guardian yesterday, has it tackled the big issues of modern life? He points specifically towards multi-racialism, but what about the growing gap between rich and poor, the gentrification of London and soaring house prices, the obsession with fame, gang culture and poor schools? And is there enough humour? Does it have a lightness of touch, a quick wit and a warmth that is a prominent part of a close knit community?
I can't judge after just one episode, but I'd be interested to know your thoughts. Is EastEnders a worn-out soap or compelling contemporary drama?
What surprised me was how little the programme appears to have moved on. Last night's show didn't feel any different to the last one I saw some years ago. The script, set, editing, actors, tone-of-voice were all very similar. But maybe that's the secret of its huge success; that the audience enjoys the familiarity and formula and that's what makes it so addictive.