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EastEnders is controversial, but not cheap sensationalism

Entertainment | Published:

Telly Talk: It was the controversial New Year storyline which saw soap fans plead with EastEnders bosses to drop it as Ronnie Branning found her newborn son James dead in his cot.

Telly Talk: It was the controversial New Year storyline which soap fans pleaded with EastEnders bosses to drop.

Ronnie Branning found her newborn son James dead in his cot. As she dealt with her grief on New Year's Eve the new mum swapped her dead baby with Kat Moon's baby Tommy, born on the same day.

Viewers used Twitter and other social networking sites to hit out at the need to include the tragic scenes, and the actresses involved admitted they were difficult to film.

While EastEnders may be used to sensational storylines, the baby swap has taken it across the line. And no doubt there will be no shortage of viewers who will continue to claim this is one step too far in the battle for ratings. There are claims it makes grieving mothers look like criminals.

But the writers, and in particular actress Jessie Wallace, who plays Kat Moon, did deliver a poignant episode last night which sensitively dealt with devastating grief.

They avoided dwelling on the gimmicks of building a dramatic plot and instead followed quietly as Kat and husband Alfie, played by Shane Ritchie, tried desperately to come to terms with the supposed death of little Tommy.

It included the visit to the hospital for that final goodbye and saw the grieving mother struggle to accept what had happened asking over and over again "why?".

And the producers may even appease some of their critics as they tried to show the fallout of Ronnie's momentary act of desperation. Played by Samantha Womack, who has said the BBC did endless research in a bid to get it right, it was heartbreaking to watch Ronnie become overwhelmed with the tragic consequences of what had happened but with no-one to help because no-one was aware of the pain she was in.

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It is in a soap's remit to tackle emotionally raw issues, and in drama it is often possible to raise a great deal of awareness of the tragedies faced by people every day and the conditions that cost lives and often need big cash injections for research to eliminate them. Raising awareness of cot death and the need for support for the families who are its victims is certainly worthwhile; grief can present itself in so many different ways.

If EastEnders can do that and if it continues to avoid too much unnecessary melodrama in the next few weeks as it plays out this storyline then it may eventually justify the need to take this particular storyline in this direction.

By Tracey O'Sullivan

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