There has been lots of exciting new signings since executive producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins arrived at Eastenders last autumn but perhaps none more so then the announcement that Stacey Branning (Lacey Turner) was set to return to Albert Square. Her return has been heavily trailed and tonight we finally get a brief glimpse of her before her full time return next week. She is undoubtedly one of best known soap characters of the past decade (and as a Northerner where loyalty to Corrie is fierce, people are actually talking excitedly about her return) as well as being one of the most popular- Lacey Turner has won over 30 awards for her portrayal of Stacey and received great critical acclaim during her previous run on the soap.
Executive producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins was right when he said that Stacey is one of EastEnders “best-loved characters.” She was involved in some of the most memorable and heart wrenching storylines during her time on the soap, as viewers it felt like we watched her come of age and we rooted for her to have a happy ending upon her exit, it was hard not to be endeared towards Stacey. (Even when she was having affairs with married men and murdering Archie Mitchell).
Perhaps her most memorable ‘moment’ was the Christmas Day 2007 reveal in which her affair with Max Branning- her father-in-law- was revealed during the Branning Christmas celebrations. The year-long build up and dramatic reveal was classic Eastenders and enticed over 14 million viewers to watch the fall out as the Branning family were ripped apart. Even though Stacey had broken her husband’s heart (poor Bradley), it was still hard not to feel a little bit sorry for her, a testament to the brilliance of Lacey Turner’s portrayal. In the hands of another actress her decision to start an affair with Max could have come across as purely spiteful and cold but Lacey added depth and an emotional intensity to her performance that allowed the viewer to feel sympathy towards Stacey. In 2009, Lacey Turner was given her most prolific storyline to date – Stacey’s bipolar storyline. Eastenders worked with mental health charities to portray the illness as realistically as possible and viewers gradually saw Stacey’s mental health decline before culminating in a heart wrenching scene in which Stacey was forcibly sectioned in the middle of Albert Square. The scenes were amongst the most powerful and affecting I have ever witnessed in soap thanks to the exceptional writing and great performances by Lacey and Gillian Wright (who is often overlooked but was just as fantastic as Lacey) and which successfully helped inform a wider audience understand the sometimes misunderstood nature of mental illness. When tackling difficult and complex issues Eastenders are at their very best, as we are currently seeing with Carol Jackson’s breast cancer storyline. Hopefully there will be more of this kind of storytelling under Dominic Treadwell-Collins.
Stacey’s return throws up a ton of potential storylines. With Kirstie out of the picture could she reunite with Max (Jake Wood) The pair always had feelings for each other long after their affair was discovered during that nailbiting Christmas Day episode. How will Ronnie and Roxie react to having their father’s killer roaming free on the square? And where does Stacy now fit into Albert Square life. I have faith Treadwell Collins won’t have bought Tuner back to the square for the sake of it and it’s sure to ruffle feathers.
As well as returning to Eastenders, Lacey will also be filming a five part series of Our Girl this year (commissioned after the success of the pilot episode in 2013) so it remains to be seen how she and Eastenders work around her filming commitments. She has worked steadily during her break from the soap but she said her return was a “no brainer” after Treadwell-Collins asked her back, citing his involvement and preferring the fast paced environment as her motivation to return to the show. As a huge fan of Eastenders I can honestly say that I cannot wait to see Stacey back on our screens, she has been hugely missed from the Slater household.. Eastenders has got a buzz about it again and Stacey’s return will ensure that everyone is talking about the soap for the right reasons once again.
Contributed by Rachael Miller
EastEnders Continues Tonight at 8.00pm on BBC ONE