THE END OF A GRIM BUT BRILLIANT STORY
The contentious subject of euthanasia has never before been addressed, at least not like this: uncluttered by piousness and unblemished by homily. Coronation Street has abstracted from the ethical debate about the right-to-die a dramatic exposition of the emotions it elicits and the human consequences it involves. On Monday night, viewers will weep as the terminally ill Hayley Cropper, played by Julie Hesmondalgh (below), takes her own life. It will be the culmination of perhaps the most challenging and certainly the most provocative storyline in the history of the soap and, for that matter, any soap.
Readers of this blog will know I have twice written appreciative pieces on this story, which has been handled with delicacy and imagination by the scriptwriters. Hesmondalgh and her stage husband David Neilson, who plays Roy Cropper, have delivered virtuoso performances, taking viewers on a forbidding journey from Hayley’s initial prognosis through an uncomfortable debate and finally to Monday night’s finale. The entire story has rang with truth even against the background of comic turns and improbable chains of events elsewhere in the show. The tragically deteriorating Hayley’s death is all the more powerful because we believe it. So much so that the Samaritans fear it could affect “vulnerable viewers.” The Samaritans are undoubtedly well-intentioned, but when they warn, “There is a risk of copycat suicides,” they are inadvertently being alarmist. There is no such risk. Coronation Street viewers are sentient enough to realize they are engaging with a drama, not seeking counsel from Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who assisted in many patient suicides. Other groups, such as Care Not Killing have complained the story should have focused on the quality care available to terminally ill patients. My own view is that the writers have done their due diligence and presented a storyline that has covered several angles without losing any of the humanity involved. This is not to say it won’t influence people: it most assuredly will, but in a way that promotes reflection and deliberation. No one will watch Monday’s two episodes and remain unchanged. Art should change us. I have covered the various sides of the debate previously and won’t repeat them; suffice it to say that, in my view, Corrie has steered refreshingly clear of moral signposts and simply allowed viewers to become guiltless intruders on a highly personal discourse between two people who love each other but recognize the inevitability of one’s death. We have been able to glimpse the terrible vision and, on Monday, some of us will need to watch through parted fingers as Hayley leaves us.
I will be discussing this story with Liz Green on her morning show on BBC Radio Leeds next Monday.