Saturday, 31 March 2012

State of the Street - March 2012

Frank's dead and we've had a whodunnit on our hands. According to Soap Law, the person arrested is never the culprit so Carla didn't do the deed and neither did Peter, even though he can't remember where he was and he had blood on his clothing. There were two expendable crew members, either of whom were likely suspects. The only time a regular character is indeed guilty is if it's self defence or they're already a villain or if we know they're leaving the show.

From the start I knew it would be Anne and I knew it would be accidental. I know she's volatile and impulsive but she wouldn't have killed her own son on purpose. She was in such a state, finding out that Frank really did rape Carla, feeling guilt, and shame for what he did and anger for his lying to her. She'd already lost her husband and she snapped. It was a no brainer. Soap law says it's never a major character who dunnit unless it was self defence or if they're leaving the show. Gotta  say though, even though it was no surprise, when you weed through all the hype, the performances of Gwen Taylor and Alison King were superb and left me breathless.

Now, to the contract...Would Carla and Frank's original partner contract have a clause in it for death circumstances? It must have. Will his original share revert back to Carla or to his mother? Even though the new sale contract was signed and then burned before it could be filed with the solicitor, the solicitor drew it up and could at least testify to that and what was in it. But of course the solicitor can't say whether it was signed or not.

Amber's gone. They wasted this character. She was so sparky and cheeky first time around and they've turned her into a mardy cow. Maybe it's not a personality transplant, maybe it's a progression of her personality given a bit of freedom when she went to uni. She's selfish and bossy. So maybe she *is* her father's daughter! Other than being the catalyst in Sophie and Sian's relationship, they haven't done anything with her. Too bad, because the actor has always been good. I think the writers let her down badly.

Lewis and Audrey...together again? I wasn't sure he really did turn himself in but then we saw him doing community service for about 5 minutes so I guess he did though we never saw the police questioning anyone since he returned and there were no victim statements from Peter or Audrey. I have a gut feeling that he's still telling massive lies to Audrey but would the writers do that to her again? If he felt that sorry, he would have turned himself in long before Audrey discovered him in that pub. I'm not entirely sure he's changed. I know, benefit of the doubt and all that but although he may not have taken that cash from the Bistro till, I think he's biding his time. And being cynical, if the actor is only back for a short time, then there could be a good chance that he'll end up hurting her again.

Now Gail is being really, really vile to her mother over Lewis, and i really mean *really*. I think she's even surpassed Ivy Tilsley. Telling Audrey she doesn't want to talk to her anymore was really harsh even if it was a bluff. Well, if Audrey does go away or drop dead from a stroke from that supposed high blood pressure, Gail will get what she wanted. Speaking of which, that exercise and "no drinking" thing didn't last very long did it?

And while we're talking about the senior set in love, how giddy were you all when Dennis and Rita finally admitted their feelings to each other? I was chuffed to little mint balls, me! It was also nice seeing Audrey comforting and supporting Rita when she feared telling Dennis about how she felt. I love it when you see long time friends make a connection. It could be friends like this or even younger members, like Fiz and Tyrone or Sally and Gail. I think the writers forget now and then to inject a bit of that into the show. It really pulls things together.

This storyline with Paul, Lesley and Eileen is just so wrong. It would have been ok if Eileen and Paul weren't involved and were only just friends. The actress playing Lesley is amazing, though, I have to give her that. I don't blame Jason for ripping Paul a new one. He's not sticking his nose in, this is *his mother*. Eileen might be pissed off about Jason's attitude as well but again, wouldn't she do the same thing if the situation was reversed? Jason is watching his mother heading for a cliff and doesn't want to see her plummeting over the edge. And Tommy and Tina finally got together, making Jason the third wheel in his own flat. They're an ok couple, standard issue Corrie couple, she's gobby and he's feckless. There were rumours that the Powers That Be want them to be the Jack and Vera of the Future. Maybe. But I doubt the actors will stick around long enough for that to happen. The problem is, Tommy's a bit on the bland side.

Leanne and Peter and Carla have a brewing custody battle. Peter was staggering around drunk at the start of the month. Carla hasn't got a maternal bone in her body and both of them are battling booze, Peter moreso. Even if Leanne hadn't formally adopted Simon, I wonder if she's got a good case for custody? I know "CarPet" have their fans but to me, this couple is a train wreck. There's too much baggage between them for it to work long term and Simon is never going to be won over. Peter has to put that child first and he's not doing it. He's going to grow up to be another Jez Quigley at this rate. Lost his mum, nearly lost his dad to a tram, knows his dad is a boozer, nearly burned in a fire twice and he's only 8! Leanne might have an unsavoury past but she's turned her life around and can give that kid more stability than Peter can.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Put the knife down, Anne

For once, the real killer's name wasn't screaming at us from the headlines. ITV threw out red herrings, five possible suspects in fact, all of whom had a motive for murder, though Michelle's was the weakest of them. Carla and Peter each had pretty strong reasons to kill Frank but I knew all along it would end up being his mother, Anne. No, I didn't *know* know, but I was pretty sure because after all my years of watching soaps, I can pretty much tell how it's going to come out.

Because Anne just wouldn't kill her son with intent, I also reckoned it would be an accident, which it appears to have been. She's shown signs of lashing out and being impulsive before so it's not unbelievable that during a great steaming row, charged with anger and shock, she'd grab the nearest thing to hand and clout him with it. I don't know what she expected would happen if she whacked him with a heavy bottle half full of whiskey but I don't think she was really thinking about anything but what she'd heard and found out.

Frank raped Carla. Worry about Frank's court case contributed to her beloved husband's demise. Frank was unrepentant and scornful of his mother. Grief, anger, shock, even guilt because she believed Frank over Carla who was brutally raped, it's a clear case of a crime of passion. She may do time for manslaughter but I think it will be a light sentence under the circumstances.

By rights, Anne is Frank's next of kin. What about the factory? Even if the solicitor can say he drew up a contract for the sale, nobody can prove it because the contract has been burned. Carla won't admit it and neither will Michelle or Peter. Should they be punished for that crime? Technically you could say they contributed to stealing back the factory majority share. Anne must inherit Frank's minority share. Will she stay a sleeping partner? Will she give it all to Carla? If she does, it better be all legal and proper.

Will Carla forgive Sally after all the nasty things Sally's said in the past? Sally will grovel and apologize, and Carla will put it down to being mesmerized and under Frank's oily spell and our Sal will be back lording it over the others in the factory before you know it. Life goes on.

The whole storyline has been very good in spite of criticism that rape does not belong on Corrie. I agree with that but if you are going to have it, do it with good actors and decent writing. They built up Frank well. Cold, calculating, controlling. Carla couldn't have Peter so once again, she went with whoever was available and once again, paid a price. The rape and aftermath was horrific but well acted. The trial was full of holes but soap trials always are. Frank didn't get convicted and that happens in real life a lot, too. But as it's a soap, we knew Frank would pay in the end and he did, with his life.

Classic whodunnit but also a classic cop-out with the expendable crew member being the culprit. I did waver at one point that it was Jenny Sumner because she could very easily have been brought in to become the woman Frank tried to attack next but, no, that was too easy. I wondered if Sally would be threatened by Frank and would lash out in self defence. That could have been the second most likely scenario but I think Sally would have owned up straight away. No, it had to be Anne, Frank's own mother.

From Frank's death, over the next couple of weeks, we could see Anne swinging from a shifty look to hysteria as guilt overcame her and back again. On the day of the funeral, she tried to reach out to Carla to apologize and then she cracked open. She nearly made a clean getaway but Sally discovered the truth but fell and knocked herself out before she could raise the alarm. Carla managed to get to the house before Anne could get out and the confession came gasping out of Anne as she admitted she'd killed her own son!

It was breath taking stuff. When scenes end and I'm catching my breath, I know it's been superb, Corrie at its best.

But with the good, there's always a plot hole or two.

1. Where's Jenny? She witnessed the signing of the contract, she was Frank's lover and his collaborator. Ok, it was a dirty trick they played on Sally but you'd think she'd have at least gone to the funeral or the police would have mentioned talking to her.

2. Have you ever owned such a silent garage door as the one on Anne's house that Kevin lifted up to sneak in the back? Would you leave it  and the door into the house unlocked? There wasn't a grind or rattle inside the house to be heard when he lifted the door.

Never mind. It didn't take away from the finale of this storyline but the Jenny thing was odd.

There's been a lot written and speculated about this whodunnit as there always is when Coronation Street finishes off a long storyline with a bang. I enjoyed the storyline. I enjoyed the twists and turns as Sally fell for a calculating and dangerous man with her friends and family worried for her safety. I was amused as Frank quickly tired of her after the trial, her chuntering on about frozen entrees and him almost visibly shuddering at the thought of playing happy families with her once her respectibility helped his reputation at the trial.

Carla went through the gamut of the pain, anguish, anger, despair and fear through the rape, trial and shock of Frank's admission of guilt and then being questioned by the police. Later she thought Peter, the man she finally got her hands on, committed the crime. She struggled to be a step mother. She kept her cool at the end, knowing Anne was distraught.

And Anne...played by Gwen Taylor, she was awesome in every original sense of the word. What a smashing actor she is and what a fantastic job she's done all along! 

This is why I watch Coronation Street!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

New characters, familiar faces

Over the past couple of years we have seen a few more short term characters played by well known actors, both British and American. Sometimes a permanent cast member has also been fairly well known from previous tv shows and soaps. It seems to be getting a bit more common and the media seems to be overrun with celebs of various notorieties who proclaim they want to be in Corrie, too!

There have been mumblings and grumblings about this. Some people are not happy that "Sinbad" from "Brookie" turned into Jerry Morton on Corrie. A lot of people can't separate Cindy Beale from Stella Price. With the news that actor Sue Johnston might join the Street as Stella's mother, the peanut gallery has been tsking again.

I know that when you are familiar with a face in one show and they've been established in that show for awhile, you do tend to identify the actor with their previous role. It takes awhile to drop that image and accept them as a totally new character. It's even more difficult if the previous character was one you disliked! I'm sure it's hard for the actors, too. They probably feel typecast and want to shake off that old character and try something new but it's not always easy to convince the public that you're a manipulative murderer this time around or, alternatively, you are not going to drive your new family into the canal!

There are some actors that never manage to shake off their most famous character and you don't hear much from them ever again once they leave their show and some are lucky to create a second iconic character elsewhere. It takes talent and not everyone has that high degree of it to make the public see them with new eyes. Arthur Lowe portrayed Leonard Swindley on Coronation Street in the early days but is equally and perhaps even better known for his role as "Captain Mainwaring" in Dad's Army. Jean Alexander is forever Hilda Ogden but she's also Auntie Wainwright from Last of the Summer Wine for a great many people. Nobody thought Jean would ever shake off Hilda's pinny and rollers but she did. Corrie fans may argue the point.

Anne Reid has made a very successful career for herself after leaving Coronation Street and Val Barlow behind. Suranne Jones is doing very well after becoming known as Karen McDonald and Sarah Lancashire is also very successful. I've no doubt that recent departee, Katherine Kelly will shine as well.

On the same note, when one actor has been so well established as one character, it's rare that a show can successfully recast the role with someone new and have them be accepted by the viewers. You could never replace Betty Driver as Betty Williams with anyone else. The same goes for many of the long term cast members such as Helen Worth, Sally Dynevor, Michael LeVell, David Neilson or Julie Hesmondhalgh. Child characters can often be recast without too much fallout and even a younger character can often work with a new face.

Coronation Street has often recast child actors as they grow up and decide they want to leave the show or ITV decides the character needs a different actor for more adult storylines. Peter Barlow has had many faces and we're on our third Nick Tilsley. I for one think Ben Price does a fine job and am very relieved Adam Rickett wasn't brought back! Can anyone really picture Tracy Barlow as anyone other than Kate Ford now? Dawn Acton did a fine job as Tracy as a stroppy teenager but Kate Ford has made the role her own. Do you think Rosie Webster or Sarah Platt could return with a new face? I think they probably could, especially if some time has passed.

Being from North America, and having been a soap watcher from way back, I'm used to actors jumping from gig to gig. I'm certainly guilty of seeing a new character on one soap or tv series and connecting them with a character they were well known and loved for on another. They're actors. This is what they do. Very few are like William Roache who spend almost all of their career as one character.

Casting of "celebrities" or really famous film actors has also been a bone of contention at times. The recent stint of well known Hollywood actor Robert Vaughn came under a bit of fire but he suited the role and the storyline admirably. The short term role that Sir Ian McKellen played in Corrie as the dodgey writer Mel Hutchwright was wonderful and one of the best "guest star" roles ever! I don't think it's something that they should do all the time, but once in awhile, or the occaisional cameo in a scene in the Rovers or Kabin makes it special, something to look forward to for me.

My point is this: Why shouldn't a new character or returning character be cast with a well known face? If they are being typecast as the same sort of role, for instance, a villain or a do-gooder, then it's not going to work as well but if the actor is good at their craft, and the character is different enough from the former one, you'll soon put their previous persona to one side and accept them as their new one. Even better if it's an actor you like and respect.

A well known face as a new or replaced, short or long term character? Bring it on!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Character Study: Rita Littlewood Fairclough Sullivan ...Tanner?

To celebrate Rita's engagement to Dennis Tanner, we bring you another character study.

Rita first appeared, very briefly, on Coronation Street in 1964 as a friend of Dennis Tanner. She was an exotic dancer. Would you credit that! She later appeared in 1972 as Rita Bates. You wonder what would keep her character in the minds of the writers all those years, don't you? They re-introduced Rita as the common-law wife of Harry Bates. She was a sort of step-mother to his two children, not the last time she would be a maternal stand-in. Rita's profession was now a cabaret singer and she found no small measure of fame in the Northwest, trilling in clubs on the circuit.

She had bright red hair and cheekbones that could break your heart. She did break a few hearts too but more often than not, was on the receiving end of a list of fellas that "did her wrong". After she finished with Harry, she caught Len Fairclough's eye. It's probably no coincidence that she had flaming red hair, like his long time friend and love, Elsie Tanner. They had a stormy on-again, off-again relationship. They always seemed to be rowing and one or the other of them would go off in a strop. It seemed they were meant to be, though, and they finally got married in 1977. One thing that Rita always wanted to be was a mother. It wasn't to be but she and Len did apply to be foster parents and took care of two children, a boy and later on a teenage girl, Sharon Gaskill who was more than a handful.

Rita's best friend was her shop assistant, Mavis Reilly Wilton. The two were a bit like oil and water, with prim and awkward Mavis always tut tutting to Rita's somewhat raunchier sense of humour and Rita's patience constantly being tested over Mavis' incessant wittering. An unlikely friendship but they cared about each other and supported each other through a lot of life's ups and downs.

Rita's husband, Len, was killed in a car smash on the motorway. Rita was shocked and then horrified to discover that he was returning from a visit to his mistress! That made the grief and sadness even harder to bear and Rita turned bitter for awhile. She picked up and went on but was more wary of blokes after that. Her next major relationship was with Alan Bradley, the father of another young girl she fostered for a time, Jenny. She was attracted to Alan but he had eyes for more than one of the other residents, barmaid Gloria Todd in particular. Still, Rita was attractive to Alan for more than just herself. There was her shop. And her house. And her bank account. Alan insinuated himself into Rita's life but although she did care for him, she still was reluctant to make that final committment. When Alan took her to the registry office for a ready-made wedding, she turned him down.

Not to be thwarted, he stole some papers and presented himself at the bank as Len Fairclough and got a fraudulent second mortage on the house. When he was discovered, his anger boiled over and he beat Rita badly. He was eventually caught and put in prison but at his trial, he was convicted but sentenced to a short term and let free because of "time already served". Rita was terrified! She was convinced he was going to get revenge on her and was stalking and terrorizing her. He was but nobody believed her.

She had a breakdown and disappeared and everyone thought Alan had killed her. He was innocent of that but Bet and Alec discovered that Rita was in Blackpool singing under her old name of Littlewood and didn't remember who they were or any of the recent past. Alec thought Alan should be told and when Alan found out, he raced to Blackpool to force Rita into returning to Weatherfield to prove that he was innocent. She ran from him and in chasing her, he was knocked over by a tram and killed, probably one of the most famous deaths on the Street until Richard Hillman drove his family into the canal!

Rita recovered and soldiered on. She sold the old Kabin and moved to new premises on Coronation Street and moved into the flat over top, leaving the bad memories in No.7 behind. She sold her house to Curly Watts. Jenny blamed her for Alan's death and turned against her and left Weatherfield. A few years later, she met a lovely sweet salesman who was about to retire. They fell in love but again, the bad luck cloud was hovering over the Kabin. Ted Sullivan revealed that he had a fatal brain tumour. Instead of moving away to Florida to retire, Rita decided she would marry Ted but would stay in England so she would have her friends' support when he died, which he did a few months later. It wasn't the end of the hard times, though, because his family fought her over the will.

Since then, her bad luck with men has prevailed. She had a (very misguided) fling with her old show business manager, Alec Gilroy and later had a romance with a man who's wife was ill with Alzheimer's Disease. That didn't work out and it looks like Rita will settle into her senior years, flame-haired as ever, with new shop assistant and business parner, Norris Cole, to take wittery Mavis' place by her side.

She's had a lot of trouble and heartbreak over the years, but has good friends and looks upon Sally Webster as a substitute daughter with Sally's girls as grandchildren. she found love late in life, with Eileen Grimshaw's father, Colin but he turned out to have a few too many skeletons in his closet and then died of a heart attack from the stress of those skeletons lurching out into the broad light of day. She decided to sell the Kabin to Norris, ending an era, but she hasn't left her spot behind the counter to go cold by any means. She is still seen behind the counter part time, a perennial like Betty behind the Rovers' bar!

We thought Rita was a goner, trapped in the Kabin amid the bonbons after the tram crash but she emerged with dignity, offering rescue workers toffees and waving the Royal Wave while moaning about her bad luck with trams. Indeed! She was homeless for awhile after the crash and dossing down with Emily and Norris but the Kabin rose again, and Rita will be the Queen no matter that Norris owns it.

Rita has also had a long history of being a mother figure. She never had her own children, much to her regret so she took on foster kids early on. Sharon Gaskell and Jenny Bradley were the two young girls she fostered but unfortunately her relationship with both of them fizzled badly, through no fault of her own. She has been a mother-figure to Sally Webster over the years and a grandmother-figure to Rosie and Sophie. She and Sally have had their ups and downs and have fallen out now and then but they always manage to find their way back to each other for a comforting cuppa.

In the 1990s, she took wild teenager, Leanne Battersby on as a shop assistant when nobody else would trust in her and Leanne became more confident under Rita's gentle hand. In the last year or two, she's taken Tina McIntyre under her wing, giving her a refuge at various times. They, too have had some ups and downs but have maintained their closeness. It's fairly certain she has grown quite fond of a number of the paper lads she's employed through the many years as well.

She's been a good friend, too though her temper has sometimes brought her more grief. Emily Bishop is a long time friend as is current co-worker Norris Cole. She has always been good mates with Betty Williams and she and Audrey Roberts had more than a few late nights over a drink or two in the Rovers. Even though she did fall out with Audrey when Audrey was involved in gigolo Lewis, they, too made up. Their friendship was not worth falling out over a man. She still keeps in touch with Mavis, too.

Now in her later years, Rita has found love again with an old friend from the past, Dennis Tanner who returned in 2010. He was homeless and she offered him a place to live. They've been just mates and she's discovered he recently ran out on someone because he panicked at the thought of a committment he wasn't sure he could make. We could see that Rita's feelings were growing but she held back. Little by little, though, it seemed like Dennis' feelings were growing too and sure enough, in March 2012, love blossomed. They are engaged and plan to marry!

It looks like there's going to be a flame haired Mrs. Tanner back on the Street after nearly 30 years. As we heard, Elsie and Rita were once psuedo-rivals for Len Fairclough's attentions though Elsie never wanted to marry Len. Rita knew he'd have had her if she'd have wanted him, because he loved her for years but in the end, Rita won his hand. Now Rita is going to be connected to the departed and deceased Elsie through her son. Let's hope they can have that happy ending!

Rita will always be a favourite. Her sarcastic sense of humour and swift come-back lines are legendary. Her voice will still raise a song once in awhile, if she's had a few gins. She's got a strong constitution and really is a survivor! There's a nice fan page for Rita/Barbara Knox here with a few interesting photos and quotes that you might find interesting, too!

And here is a feature on the Coronation Street blog celebrating 40 years of Rita.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Julie and Brian - Mavis and Derek for the 21st Century?

He's a bit of a pompous windbag and she's daft as a brush. He takes his career as a teacher/headmaster seriously, she can drive her coworkers mad with her wittering and off the wall remarks.

I've often thought of these two as the new version of the classic Mavis and Derek. They have a lot of differences, of course, but there are also some similarities. I think the main reason I think of them this way is just an overall feeling. He's more Derek-like than she is Mavis-like but as a couple they are quirky and so odd that they are perfect for each other.

I do think Julie has a bit more to her than Mavis but she too was a wall flower without much luck with men for quite a long time. She's stronger, more forceful and perky than Mavis and she's most definitely a modern woman. She knows what she wants and can make a decision where neither Mavis nor Derek, as his mother said once, could tell the time in a room full of clocks. Julie has a wonderful personal style, too. Mavis was most definitely on the dowdy side but that was more to do with the generation, I think.

Brian is a bit stodgy, boorish, banal and even slightly repulsive. He seems to have his heart in the right place but he's not all that clever dealing with people. He's self centred and a bit of a prat and definitely not the most decisive of  men.  He just seems to me to embody an overall Derekish quality to him.

Together they embrace life with enthusiasm, whether it's UFO-spotting or impending parenthood. There was a rumour they would set up a fruit and veg market in the old Butcher shop and though that doesn't seem to be in the offing yet, with all this talk of healthy eating for the students and Brian's job seemingly on the line if he doesn't pull up the school's collective socks, it could still happen.

Whether you can see the spirit of the Wiltons in them or not, I think they're a classic Corrie couple. Both characters have the comic side to them which we need in the show. Brian was sublimely funny with John Stape-wick and it's too bad Stape's dead because Brian would have latched on to him as BFF rather than Ken and had us all in stitches. Mind you, I suppose he'd have driving John to another murder before long!

I thoroughly enjoy Julie and Brian's interaction with each other as a couple and look forward to more!

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