Screenplay by Rob Gittins.
Following my review of EastEnders‘ first episode for its thirtieth anniversary, I was curious to see how much the show’s changed in comparison, having never seen it. Having already acknowledged that this isn’t me jumping-on, I was able to look at 19/02/2015 as its own thing, rather than the latest episode of a drama I follow.
And the show has definitely changed. There’s still the narrative structure of hap-hazard switches between characters, but the extended running time to an hour gave this anniversary a chance to breath, because the writers clearly went into it knowing what they wanted to do. The episode even begins with a recreation of the first scene, broadcast thirty years ago to the day. A door’s kicked-down, a character says “it stinks in ‘ere, dunnit?” and a dead body’s found in a chair. It might be retrospective, but the fact that the scene played-out so similarly to a previous event thirty years prior to the day is a tall disbelief to suspend. Straight away, there was the impression that it was going to be self-indulgent, and the majority of it was.
The difference here being that the murder doesn’t become a big thing. Whereas Reg Cox’s death was the first storyline, simply triggered by the initial episode, this death was concluded within that same episode, as Dot Branning confessed to the killing and allowed the police to take her away quietly – even if that scene was performed live, and therefore was sounded quite amateurally. Seriously, do their microphones not have a higher gain? It didn’t look so much like a drama and more like a behind-the-scenes video. But that’s because the camera work is clearly more ambitious, with more cinematic shots rather than a standard multi-cam production.
But Branning’s story is composited to another character – I didn’t catch her name, there are so many – who gave birth the same night. There’s the obvious comparison there of that being a statement about how the show functions; people are either ending lives or creating life. The conflicts that are so common in this show are primal, and Albert Square is the wilderness. There’s even several scenes with Phil Mitchell far from the Square, in a wasteland against a backdrop of the City of London. That was impressive to look at, even if those scenes contributed absolutely nothing to the episode.
Which is all I really have to say. For a thirtieth anniversary special, it was only as good as it could have been, but it seemed to be playing more to the long-term viewers than the general public. But it definitely wasn’t bad. None of the actors found a happy medium, with everyone either underplaying or overplaying (with Danny Dyer spectacularly accomplishing to do both), but the atmosphere was interesting enough. There were never any slow moments.
I’d form some sort of conclusion, but everything I think has already been expressed in a large enough capacity.
EastEnders: 19/02/2015 – simple story exaggerated for effect 6/10.