As a fan of Coronation Street, I was left completely horrified on Wednesday night when I saw the latest developments in the Geoff Metcalfe (Ian Bartholomew) and Yasmeen Nazir (Shelley King) coercive control storyline – and according to Twitter, my fellow viewers felt the same.
The ITV soap has been exploring this form of abuse for the past couple of months, showing Geoff slowly but surely revealing the telltale signs that he is a controlling abuser. For those unaware of coercive control, Women's Aid defines it as being acts that "humiliate, intimidate, punish, frighten or harm" victims until they become dependent on the abuser.
Creepy Geoff has been working since the middle of last year to gradually take over Yasmeen’s life, but he's now hit a gruesome milestone.
Earlier in the week on Coronation Street, he tried to convince his lover he has a dust allergy, and on account of other health problems, needs her to do all of the cleaning for him. And this isn’t just a quick once over with the hoover, it’s a full-blown spring clean every day.
However, Yasmeen also likes to spend her time having a wine and a catch-up with Cathy Matthews (Melanie Hill), meaning Geoff had to come up with a niche way of keeping her indoors – he took her bank cards off her, meaning her social life is at his mercy.
What hit me, and I’m sure many others too, is how menacing the whole plot has become all of a sudden. It takes a big moment like that to realise just how far Geoff has gone.
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Not only has the acting been superbly nuanced, but the production behind the story has had a real chance to breathe. Soaps mimic real life, taking each day as it comes, and viewers have spent months in Yasmeen and Geoff's home, watching the abuse slowly but surely grow in severity, making the whole thing more believable – and ten times more harrowing.
King's character has become a shell of her former self, but that's not really something you realise until you look back at Yasmeen before the abuse started. She was fun, bubbly, and the life of any party. Now, she daren't disobey Geoff for fear she will harm his health – or worse, disappoint him.
What’s more, producer Iain MacLeod exclusively told RadioTimes.com the decision behind Yasmeen being the one to be worn down so slowly was a conscious choice from the off.
"Our intention in telling the story was to show the corrosive effects of coercive control, which is a subtle but serious form of domestic abuse,” MacLeod explained. “Yasmeen is a strong woman and it was important that we showed someone like her being gradually worn down over time, so people at home could see the early warning signs of this kind of toxic behaviour.
“We also wanted to counteract the false idea that only a certain type of person could find themselves in this situation, or that there is a stereotypical ‘victim’. Coercive control is bespoke to the individual, with the abuser knowing exactly which buttons to push and just how hard to push them to create an ambiguity in the victim’s mind. In this way, the person being controlled often doesn’t register what’s happening to them, even starting to lose confidence in their own interpretation of events: ‘He can’t have meant to hurt me, because he loves me. I must be reading this wrong.’”
As for Yasmeen's future, can she ever shake off Geoff’s chains? Yes, says MacLeod, but don’t expect it to be resolved in a flash.
“This pattern of behaviour often continues until it’s too late and they have been psychologically imprisoned by the very person who professes to love them. The imprisonment is sometimes more literal, with the abuser controlling their partner’s access to money, when they leave the house and who they see – even what and when they eat. We will be exploring all these aspects of this complex and important social issue in coming episodes, as Geoff’s strangle-hold on Yasmeen tightens.”
“I know the story is an uncomfortable watch," admitted MacLeod, "but I think that’s because it makes us all examine our own behaviour in a really healthy way. Controlling behaviour is a spectrum and I really hope that, at the less insidious end, the storyline will have a positive effect on viewers’ attitudes to their loved-ones. And at the more serious end, where Geoff is headed, I hope it will give people at home who are in abusive relationships the courage and insight to get out before it’s too late. On the evidence of the letters I have already been receiving, I truly believe this will be the case."
Nevertheless, Coronation Street fans have been begging the soap to put an end to this horror – and while I agree I don’t want to see Yasmeen put through any more torture, it feels right to give the storyline the proper send-off – and closure – it deserves.
Bartholomew and King have given outstanding performances in their roles, never once overselling the power play between them. Geoff’s disturbing need to have his actions hidden is almost as creepy as the fact that he’s doing it in the first place and Yasmeen's honest desire to just be a good partner has been abused just as much as she has.
Although it's getting increasingly difficult to sit through, this slow-burn storyline is hugely effective for it. As MacLeod points out, it allows us to be fully reflective of our own behaviour and more importantly, lets us see the real impact it can have – and that can only be a good thing for society. Well done Corrie for taking a huge, but important, risk.
With the net closing in on Geoff (come on Cathy!), hopefully he won’t have the chance to ruin Yasmeen’s life entirely – and we can all relish seeing him get his comeuppance.
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