Did Coronation Street 'lack the courage' to keep Hayley alive?

Jan 21, 2014

Critics divided on whether soap tackled euthanasia debate bravely or stoked a ‘faux controversy'

A CONTROVERSIAL euthanasia storyline reached its conclusion on Coronation Street last night, winning high praise from television critics – but some say it fell short of tackling the assisted suicide debate head on.

Suffering from terminal cancer, the much-loved soap character Hayley Cropper – played by Julie Hesmondhalgh – took a cocktail of drugs to end her life, with her husband Roy at her side.

"This episode could easily have been just a sentimental weep-a-thon," says Ellen E Jones in The Independent, "but subtle performances, particularly from David Neilson as Roy, made for a more emotionally complex drama."

Lucy Mangan in The Guardian describes the episode as "finely scripted" with some of the "best performances the cobbles have ever seen", while Ben Lawrence in the Daily Telegraph said it felt as if the audience was "living every tragic moment" with Hayley and Roy.

"The right to die remains a heated, emotional and complex topic which we will almost certainly never resolve," says Lawrence. "But with this storyline, handled with bravery and nuance, Coronation Street has made considerable progress in the debate."

In The Times, Alex Hardy is equally approving. "In Hayley's harrowing death scenes last night we did not see a glamorised, sensationalised story, played to make headlines roar and Twitter race. We instead saw a great love being torn apart as Roy fought his ill wife to the last."

Hesmondhalgh and Neilson played their parts "achingly" and the episode was written and directed "with jarring effect", says Hardy. "This was not a clumsy for-or-against, TV-does-issues moment, but a nuanced picture of a life ending as much painfully as peacefully. It is a plot that is likely to make viewers sob and think in buckets. Bravo."

But in the Daily Mail, Christopher Stevens believes the sensitive acting was tarnished by the producer's eagerness for ratings. He claims a "faux controversy" about the euthanasia debate was whipped up in the weeks before the broadcast, but in fact Hayley killed herself, with no help from anyone.

If Coronation Street really wanted to tackle the debate over assisted suicide, it should have let Hayley "linger a couple more weeks until she was too weak to hold the glass herself", says Stevens. "That really would have been controversial television, but the producers apparently lacked the courage for it."

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