Coronation Street, TV review: Hayley and Roy bring the right to die to life with due nuance
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Monday 20 January 2014
Actress Julie Hesmondhalgh was only meant to work on Coronation Street for two months. Her character was intended as little more than a gimmick to help the Manchester-based soap opera compete in the ratings battle with then-dominant EastEnders. Fifteen years later, her character’s story has finally come to a close, and with it, one of soap’s most enduring and touching romances: that of oddball Roy and his kind-hearted wife, Hayley.
When Hayley Patterson first arrived in Weatherfield in January 1998, her most dramatic scenes all hinged around the fact that she’d been born male. Hayley (née Harold) was the first transgender character in a British soap opera, but it was six years before the Gender Recognition Act (2004) effectively legalised marriage for people in relationships like Roy and Hayley’s. They made it official in 2010. It’s a testament to changing social attitudes and the power of soap operas to bring about the change that by last night, Hayley’s birth gender had long since ceased to be relevant. In fact, it didn’t warrant a single mention.
Instead, Hayley’s last moments were spent saying her goodbyes and her thank-yous, while attempting to assuage the grief of her loved ones. She had a last cuppa with old friend Carla from Underworld, last cuddles with her surrogate children Fiz, Tyrone and Chesney and made sure Roy’s best shirt was ironed, ready for the funeral. Only Roy – and of course us, the viewers – knows quite how close the end was, a dramatic irony which made these tear-jerking scenes even sadder.
The stars of long-running soaps have a way of getting to us like no other fictional characters. In some ways, we know them better than we know our friends. After witnessing Hayley overcome trials including a failed adoption, Tracy Barlow’s scheming and the discovery of a son she never knew existed – saying goodbye was always going to be emotional. This episode could easily have been just a sentimental weep-a-thon, but subtle performances, particularly from David Neilson as Roy, made for a more emotionally complex drama.
Confirmed atheist Roy never did overcome his objections to Hayley’s decision to take her own life when faced with terminal cancer, despite her efforts to comfort him. “I’ll never leave you, Roy Cropper,” she told him last night.
Corrie’s producers had always insisted this storyline would explore the issues of the right-to-die debate while remaining neutral. Their real achievement was managing this without compromising the emotional truth of two much-loved characters.
With characteristic kindness, Hayley had tried to orchestrate the perfect ending, but her decision to die looked neither easy nor unambiguously noble.
As she eventually conceded: “Maybe there are no right words."
As someone with motor neurone disease, I hope tonight's Coronation Street helps to change the law on assisted dying
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
- 2 Nick Kyrgios calls former Olympian Dawn Fraser a 'blatant racist' after she tells Wimbledon star to 'go back where their parents came from'
- 3 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
- 4 The Greece debt crisis explained in less than 100 words
- 5 Cristiano Ronaldo storms out of interview after being asked about possible sale of Manchester United target Sergio Ramos
Game of Thrones season 6: Daenerys actress Emilia Clarke says '50/50 chance' Jon Snow is alive
Chronixx interview: Reggae sensation on taking the opening spot at Glastonbury and calling Barack Obama a 'waste man'
Game of Thrones season 6: Director Jack Bender says showrunners 'communicate closely' with George RR Martin
Amy Winehouse film: Mark Ronson praises 'respectful' movie as it scores highest ever UK opening for British documentary
Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts