The death of Emmerdale’s Emma Barton was suitably dramatic and haunting, as befitted such a troubled, complex character.
Her demise also served the dual purpose of punishing her for killing husband James last year, and setting up a juicy ‘whodunit?’ murder mystery set to run throughout the autumn.
Initially regarded as suicide, police quickly confirmed Emma was murdered – and with a village full of people who had an axe to grind with the deceased, the investigation is well underway. In the coming weeks, more will be revealed about alibis, motives and secrets among the suspects – and although you may think we’ve been here many times before, Emmerdale series producer Iain MacLeod promises this is a soap whodunit like no other…
Why did you want to embark on a whodunit storyline?
As soon as we were thinking of an exit story for Emma when we knew Gillian Kearney was leaving it became sort of inevitable. So many people in the village have really strong reasons to dislike Emma, and what often happens when you’re planning a soap whodunit is that you have to spend six months constructing motive for everyone – but all the pieces were just there.
Were you worried about repeating other soap murder mysteries?
I know whodunits have been done in soaps a lot but I think this one has a slightly different flavour in terms of how the reveal plays out and the way the episode is packaged. It also felt like a poetic end to Emma to make her exit a death and have the parallels with James’s final scene, falling from a great height. I love a good whodunit, I’m a big fan of crime fiction generally. Some of the most high profile stories in soap have been whodunits so why not do one? It’s been a while in since Emmerdale did it.
Will there be a prime suspect the rest of the village thinks is the killer?
It differs a lot. The evidence will sort of ebb and flow so people won’t know what to think by the end of it! But the reason we embarked on this was because a lot of people have a strong motive, so that’s deliberate.
Can you talk us through some of the suspects’ motives?
Emma stole Moira’s baby which gives Moira a massive motive. As for Cain –he’s never actually killed anyone and if he was going to it would definitely be in protection of Moira. Laurel pursued Emma earlier in the year when she discovered her manipulation of Ashley and then dropped it, but that changed when Emma clashed with Gabby and revisited her campaign of terror against Laurel’s children. So I think at times various people will be suspected by the police, and same goes for the other characters. In a court of opinion, I think the jury would be hung.
Is anyone defending Emma’s memory?
The remaining Barton boys veer from hating their mum to grieving for her, which I think is quite a truthful reaction to something so tragic happening to a person who has done so many horrible things. I’ve got myself in trouble before for defending people that are viewed to be really villainous, but in Emma’s case I think there’s a real tragedy and pathos to her story, and that’s partly down to how brilliantly Gillian’s played it. Emma is a really damaged individual, a product of her desperately sad experiences. In stories like this there’s always a certain glee seeing someone bad getting their ‘comeuppance’, but I do think you feel sorry her.
Could the wrong person be jailed for the crime?
It’s a possibility, everyone has such strong motives and as the story unfolds, there are many ambiguities surrounding who’s doing what and when they were doing it that it’s perfectly possible that the police might bark up a few wrong trees before they arrive at the correct one…
Once the killer is revealed does that mean they’ll have to leave the show?
The soap gods must have their vengeance I suppose, but we’ll have to see the story as it plays out. Robert Sugden’s killed somebody and I certainly don’t think anyone’s clamouring to get him out. The wheel of karma probably means that whoever’s killed Emma, in some ways hasn’t committed as big a crime as if they’d really killed a god-fearing, law-abiding, lovely innocent character. Having said that if you’ve got blood on your hands in a soap, you can’t just get away with it, and even if the consequences aren’t legal ones there has to be some comeuppance. And there will be.
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