EastEnders cot-death plot puts actors centre stage
Actress Samantha Womack caught in the middle as boundary between reality and fiction blurs
Amid the sound and fury generated by the BBC's controversial EastEnders cot-death baby-swap plotline, which has prompted more than 10,000 complaints, the line between drama and real life is becoming ever more blurred, with the show’s actors now appearing to have become the characters in a storyline dreamt up by the tabloid papers.
Over the last week it has variously been claimed that Samantha Womack, the actress at the centre of the storyline – she plays bereaved mother Ronnie Branning - has been verbally abused in the street, had quit the soap in protest, was planning to sue the BBC and has now been forced to deny that she is close to a breakdown.
Meanwhile the BBC has been defending itself against criticism of the fantastical plot, which saw Womack's character discover her newborn baby dead in his cot before swapping him for the child of Kat Moon, played by Jessie Wallace, on New Year's Eve.
As complaints about the storyline being exploitative and over-the-top flooded in, with the influential website Mumsnet leading the wave of protests, the BBC's director of vision, Jana Bennett, wrote to Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts to tell her: "The show is absolutely not suggesting that this behaviour is typical of a mother who has suffered such a terrible and tragic loss... EastEnders has a long history of tackling difficult issues in a way that allows viewers to learn and debate the topic at hand."
The show's executive producer Bryan Kirkwood claimed the show was "matching drama with public service".
However, the tabloids seem less concerned about exploring the issues supposedly raised by the soap and more interested in the back-stage dramas at the BBC, which include the news that the storyline is to be brought to an early end as a result of the outcry.
And the public seem equally confused. Womack was apparently abused in the street by a viewer who called her a "murdering ****" while she was out in London with her two real-life children.
It has also been claimed that the BBC fears other actors involved in the plot, including Wallace and her on screen-husband Shane Ritchie, could walk out.
As the off-screen drama rumbles on, the absurdity of the situation has not gone unnoticed by media observers. Writing in the Guardian, Charlie Brooker pointed out that the storyline "has to be presented as a hard-hitting study of bereavement because the alternative is to admit that EastEnders is mindless entertainment".
He added: "If broadcasting the storyline was fairly crazy, complaining to Ofcom about the lack of realism in EastEnders doesn't seem much saner – almost on a par with threatening to sue the manufacturers of Monster Munch because their crisps don't taste of monsters."
Meanwhile the stars and makers of the show continue to take centre stage in their own soap opera. ·
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