We knew it was coming. The death of Lucy Beale had been highly publicised by Eastenders since February and whilst viewers knew that last Friday’s episode would be the last time they would see Lucy Beale alive, the final scene revealing her lifeless body lying on Walford Common was perhaps more poignant than anticipated. As the camera panned through the darkness of the trees in the forest, it slowly came to rest on a solitary figure lying alone and dishevelled on the woodland floor; Lucy Beale was dead. The stillness of the forest and Lucy’s motionless body was perfectly contrasted with the sound of voicemail messages being left on Lucy’s phone by her family and friends, highlighting an important aspect of this storyline; Lucy is not just the victim of a murder but a daughter, sister and friend to the voices being played over the scene, foreshadowing the impact her death and the storyline will have on her relatives and the residents of Albert Square.
In Monday night’s episode the poignancy factor increased further upon the discovery of her body when a little girl on an innocent Easter egg hunt accidentally came across Lucy’s body. The look of confusion and then sheer horror on the girl’s face was unsettling to watch as a viewer yet her reaction mirrored our own as we finally saw Lucy’s body being discovered. We saw the body being photographed and the murder scene forensically examined by police officers, not typical of what we would expect to see in the aftermath of a conventional soap murder, yet the detail only added to the authenticity of the storyline and at times if felt like we were witnessing a documentary rather than a fictional murder. It was uncomfortable viewing but the inclusion of these scenes allowed the audience feel as though they were part of the investigation and provided a different take on the aftermath of a murder, something we only usually see in television dramas and not soaps.
The whole episode built up to the moment that Ian was told about his daughter’s death and when the moment came it is probably fair to conclude that most viewers had their heart in their mouth as they awaited Ian’s reaction. A few weeks ago Adam Woodyatt professed that the scripts for episode 4842 (Tuesday’s episode) were some of the best he had ever been given and after watching the episode (twice) it is hard not to agree with him. James Payne’s writing was authentic and truthful whilst Woodyatt’s performance was every bit as raw and genuine as you would expect a parent to feel when told their child had passed away. The pain and grief was etched across his face and upon seeing Lucy’s body in the morgue his shock and anguish at seeing his deceased daughter left a lump in the throat for the viewer; surely even the most hardened of hearts could not have felt a tear in their eye of a quivering of the lip as Ian fell apart at the realisation that his little girl had died. Death is something we have all experienced in some form and the sensitive way in which the scenes were written, acted and directed felt genuine and allowed the viewer to sympathise with Ian and the Beale family in a way that is not usually experienced in soap. Adam Woodyatt is the longest serving cast member at Eastenders and is therefore one of the most recognisable faces on television, even to the most casual viewer. The audience feel like they ‘know’ him like a friend which allows them to evoke a great deal sympathy towards him, making the emotional scenes more heartfelt but compulsive viewing.
Eastenders have pushed the boundaries this week and experimented with different shots and direction, evident during last night’s episode which began with silence in the Beale household. No dialogue was spoken for the first few minutes of the episode allowing the characters and audience to reflect on Lucy’s death. The episode was set entirely in the Beale household but sustained the audience’s attention throughout by focusing on each member of the family individually. One of the most interesting (and perhaps overlooked) story strands is Denise’s confliction over her relationship with Ian. We saw earlier in the week that she was planning to leave him before Lucy’s death and she is now seemingly stuck in a relationship and household that she doesn’t want to be part of anymore. It will be interesting to see how it develops over the coming weeks and what effect it will have on Ian if she does decide to leave him, especially as she is seemingly the glue that is keeping the Beale household together at the moment.
The dramatic events this week have recognised that when viewers care passionately for a much loved character (Ian) they will tune in to see what happens to them and with the increased ratings for Eastenders this week (Tuesday’s episode peaked with nearly nine million viewers) it perhaps goes to show that a well acted and exceptionally written storyline that is gripping and realistic is ultimately what viewers want to see.
Contributed by Rachael Miller
EastEnders Continues Tonight at 8.00pm on BBC ONE