Sunday, 8 October 2017

Why Corrie would be correct to kill off Rita

(This post was originally posted by Scott Willison on the Coronation Street Blog in September 2017, reposted to this blog with permission.)

Yesterday Graeme wrote an excellent, impassioned piece calling for Our Rita to be saved from the Grim Reaper.  He made a lot of good points, but I didn't entirely agree with his premise.  To me, if you're going to write out Rita Littlewood-Fairclough-Sullivan-Tanner, there's only one way to do it: kill her.

I should start with the usual caveats.  The article we're all talking about was printed in one of the most disreputable tabloids, and has been neither confirmed or denied by anyone at ITV.  This could all be a fuss about nothing.  Remember, the tabloids were confidently telling us that Sarah Harding was so good she'd been signed up for further appearances.  The red tops are also keen to predict the axing of much-loved Street stars whenever a new producer comes in - if you believe the papers, Bill Roache must be on a knife edge following a shift in personnel, because every single producer has a secret desire to kill him off.  And yet, it's never happened.

Which brings me to Barbara Knox.  If the story is true - and I'll write the rest of this piece assuming it is, and Rita is soon to die - then she must be on board with it.  La Knox is the grand dame of the Street, an icon and a legend and a fearsome personality.  It's highly unlikely that she was handed her cards without any notice.  If she wasn't the one to ask to leave, then at the very least she was extensively consulted, especially about her final storyline.  Much as I'd love to have Ms Knox holding a tearful press conference to protest her axing a la Mrs Overall, her silence makes me think this was a mutual decision.

Does a faithful dog expect to be kicked? That show was my life.
And if Barbara Knox wants to go, let's send her out with a bang.  Some of the greatest characters in the Street's history have had iconic farewells - Alma, Mike Baldwin, Jack and Vera.  Actors love a good deathbed scene.  You're the absolute centre of attention, surrounded by well-wishers, acting your little socks off.  It's the kind of scene that looks great on your showreel, or in your Lifetime Achievement montage at the Soap Awards.  A brain tumour is frequently used to kill people in continuing dramas because it gives you plenty of warning.  A terminal diagnosis means a big build up to the end as she tidies up her affairs and gathers her loved ones around her. Imagine Rita tearfully slipping away after weeks of preparing for the sad event, surrounded by her friends and family.  There wouldn't be a dry eye in Weatherfield.

It'd give closure to us, the viewers, too.  The problem with characters going away is they're always missed.  We always want them back.  Emily went to Peru, and we're all still hoping she'll come back for a proper goodbye.  Becky flew off to the Caribbean, and we were all disappointed she couldn't make it back for Kylie's funeral.  Martin's ignoring his grandchildren, Andy refuses to get on a plane to visit Weatherfield no matter what traumas Liz and Steve suffer, and Ken only remembers he has kids when they are literally stood in front of him.  If Rita went off to retire in the country, we'd all be waiting for her to return for, say, Sophie's wedding.  After all, weren't we all just a little bit disappointed Mavis didn't return when Rita wed Dennis?  (Killing a character also stops the actor from returning years later for a disappointing follow up that trashes the goodwill from their first goodbye cough Bet cough).

There's another big reason for Rita not to simply wander off in a black cab, and her name is Jenny Bradley.  The return of Jenny - and especially Sally Ann Matthews' performance - has been an absolute triumph, and part of its glory is her reunion with Rita.  They've bonded again, both realising that they are the closest they have to a real family.  Jenny is calling Rita the mother of the bride, and Rita is adoring the role.  Given how close they are again, would Rita really up sticks and move away?  Especially after all she did to put Jenny back on her feet?  No chance.  She'd want to be with Jenny now to watch her live a happy life with Johnny.  A quiet retirement in her flat above the Kabin with her just down the road would be absolutely ideal.  If she simply left, it'd mean the end of this relationship, and that would be awful.

It makes sense from a character point of view too.  Rita is eighty-four, and yet, if the programme is to be believed, she's still up at five to do the papers, then on her feet for the rest of the day behind the counter in the Kabin.  That's not a woman who is ever going to retire, no matter what happens.  She's had plenty of opportunities over the years but it's never happened.  The only logical end point for that kind of person is to die with your boots on.  Having her suddenly say "oh, I've had enough, I'm off to live with Mavis" would seem forced and unrealistic.

If Rita died, it'd also stop her from drifting away.  Graeme was right when he said that older characters have receded into the background, but that's what happens when you have cast members in their eighties.  They simply can't keep up the relentless pace required to produce two and half (soon to be three) hours of television a week, and need time off and rest.  It means fewer, quieter storylines to keep them ticking over, while the younger ones take over the heavy lifting.  Much as I loved Betty, her last decade on the show consisted of her sitting behind the bar saying "luvvy" a lot and pulling faces.  She did it brilliantly, but it meant she became peripheral.

Betty's real-life death also deprived us of a proper farewell.  She vanished from the show, and then, a few months later, the characters were allowed to say goodbye.  The same happened with Blanche and Deirdre.  It robs the show of its drama because it's done out of necessity, rather than desire.  The writers are having to make good on a bad situation, and no-one's very enthusiastic about it because it's tinged with the real-life sadness.  Barbara Knox is a woman in her mid-eighties; I hate to sound ghoulish, but nobody lives forever.  If you kill Rita now, you get a final goodbye that will make sense for the show and the public, and allow us all to close the book on her.

Kill Rita and you score a number of slam dunks.  You allow a much loved character to say her final goodbyes onscreen.  You get a good, dramatic storyline that will affect every character on the Street and create smaller storylines (how will Sally and Jenny react to losing their surrogate mothers?  How will Norris cope in the Kabin on his own?  Will Gemma go off the rails without a calming influence?).  You get boffo ratings - you can bet that ITV will be all over it; they're probably preparing the Farewell Rita documentary even as we speak.  And Rita can go out with a bang.  That's what the showgirls always want - a hell of a curtain call.

If you want to tell me just how wrong I am and why I should be drummed out of Weatherfield you can do so at my Twitter account: @merseytart

Tvor @tvordlj on Twitter

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with you 100%!

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