Screenplay by Gerry Huxham.
EastEnders reached its thirtieth anniversary this week, which is part of the curiosity that influenced me watching its first episode, which the BBC had distributed online. I’d never seen the shown before, and that’s mostly because of how it’s marketed contemporaneously. The show’s generally known for being working class, violent, and depressing – though having not seen it I couldn’t make these kind of accusations, since for all I knew, they could have just been the more tense moments to attract audiences to a show that’s actually more balanced emotionally. Having only seen this one, first episode, I have to say – and this is only in the form of a review for that first episode, that, as far as the original few went, it’s more pleasant than I was expecting.
As the beginning of a continuing drama, this is where the characters are introduced. The majority of them I found not unlikeable. A few were either melodramatically overplayed or completely shallow as people go, but there were also characters I really liked. Legg, for instance, was the most professional, being a doctor. The casting appears to have wanted someone experienced and dynamic, and that was accomplished. Then there’s Den Watts, who was my favourite. One particularly good moment was a bar fight, in-which he jumps the bar, knocks a glass, and breaks it up by pushing the perpetrator through the front doors, barring him in the process. In fact, his line, “Look at my bloody shirt!” was actually really amusing, since there was red wine spilt across it. A hand then smashed through the door window, and the end credits began immediately. It was abrupt, and showed the kind of technical control necessary in an as-live recording.
Another thing to like was the narrative structure, as we cut between characters through the course of the episode, with transitions being made by the story changing who it’s following during scenes. After we’ve seen one character for a while, we suddenly realise another is now being the centre of the drama. It was very fluid.
The writing might not have been the best I’ve ever seen, but the majority of the actors were able to pull it together. By far the best thing about this initial episode was the atmospheric world-building. The production, costume, makeup and hair design recreated London’s East End really convincingly, and that’s what intrigued me. I can’t say I can relate to it, but the distance between it and myself was what made it fascinating, as well as the dated setting. What I can’t say is whether I’d have been a regular viewer when it began (though the thought of what I could have been like were I 18 in 1985 is a strange thought), but I found it likeable enough to find the two episodes from the thirtieth anniversary evening and catch-up with them. I’ve no intention of jumping-on to the series, but I can at least review those latest two. If nothing else, consider it an experiment.
EastEnders: 19/02/1985 — intriguingly atmospheric, period world building 6/10.