When Coronation Street announced that Sinead Osbourne (Katie McGlynn) would die from cancer, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was the wrong decision.
The young mum had bravely battled the illness for over a year, and her brief remission must have brought hope to those in the audience with a personal connection to her predicament. Don’t soaps have a duty to be positive about the issues they cover and show that there can be a happy ending sometimes?
Get all the latest soaps news and views direct to your inbox
Sinead’s passing in Friday 25th October’s hour-long episode was one of the most harrowing, confrontational deaths I’ve ever seen in a soap. Rarely has a continuing drama fully explored the harsh, physical realities of what terminal cancer does to the body, the rawness of grief for the loved ones left behind, and the sheer weight of loss that is felt.
And it was at that point that I changed my mind. Sometimes, it’s right that soaps shoulder the responsibility for telling a difficult story on behalf of those for whom there is no neat resolution.
Pausing all other storylines so viewers were literally around Sinead’s deathbed was a brave, if risky, move for a genre more akin to switching quickly between short, snappy scenes full of fast-moving plot.
There were points, it has to be said, where it seemed almost too much, but in real life it certainly is too much, and Corrie deserves plaudits for having the courage of its convictions and seeing this through to a hard-hitting, unflinching conclusion.
Cancer has touched the lives of numerous soap characters over the years, but the worry that it might be perceived as scaremongering and the admirable preference for showing triumph over tragedy means we don’t often see it as a cause of death.
That’s not to say it hasn’t been done effectively before – another Corrie exit from the illness was Hayley Cropper’s in 2014, and we still well up at the thought of Roy cradling his beloved wife as she made the choice to take her own life in the final stages of pancreatic cancer while The Lark Ascending played in the background.
As unforgettable and moving as that was, frankly, Sinead’s death scene made it look like The Sound of Music.
The only misfire for me was Daniel Osbourne inexplicably betraying his ailing wife by kissing Bethany Platt, putting the couple at odds as he confessed to his moment of madness. An unnecessary extra layer that felt tacked on, it jarred with the honesty and bravery running through the rest of the story.
However, it did provide a rare moment of levity when bolshy Tracy Barlow berated Bethany in the street when she asked after Sinead (“What do you care, b***h? Bog off and leave her to die in peace!”).
The public ‘slut shaming’ of a sexual abuse survivor is questionable, and probably a discussion for another time, but at a press screening I attended, the opportunity to laugh through the tears at Tracy’s riposte led to a brief burst of relieved hysteria among the assembled hardened soap journalists, who were all traumatised by the sheer power of the episodes and grateful for a chance to let go of some of that tension.
Praise must go to the entire cast, especially McGlynn – she has transformed Sinead from borderline-irritating kook to one of the most relatable heroines in recent Street history through her fearless performance throughout the cancer plot.
And much as I changed my mind about the decision to let Sinead die, my general opinion of the character has altered in the last few years. Her partnership with brooding, troubled Daniel had echoes of a young Ken and Deirdre – the frustrated intellectual trapped by his responsibilities and the girl next door full of romantic ideals.
Knowing that this vibrant, sweet young woman with her whole life ahead of her will never grow old only increases the impact of her on-screen death in a way that, sadly, too many people in real life will understand.