It’s been compelling, if uncomfortable, viewing for months, but Coronation Street‘s coercive abuse storyline reached new heights of horror as Yasmeen Metcalfe (Shelley King) finally fought back and attacked Geoff Metcalfe (Ian Bartholomew).
The episode aired on Friday 1st May was striking for many reasons: unusually it focused solely on the Metcalfes’ storyline for the whole running time, and contained many experimental touches that broke with the normal realistic format of soap storytelling. Plus, it featured levels of verbal and – at least the strong suggestion of – physical violence that were unquestionably difficult to endure.
However, all these elements were crucial in portraying a truly horrific subject, as Corrie producer Iain MacLeod tells RadioTimes.com in an exclusive interview.
“This episode is shocking and rightly so. The issue of coercive control should be shocking. I am thrilled Coronation Street has had the opportunity to talk about it in such a high-profile way.
“You tell yourself with scary things in dramas ‘it’s not real’, but tragically for many in the real world this is not pretend. I hope it has given the audience an insight into what coercive control is.”
MacLeod explains the decision to depart from regular day-to-day realism with stylistic tricks including jump cuts, distorted audio and shots from Yasmeen’s disturbed point of view, as months of psychological abuse take their toll, were not only creative ways to put the audience in the character’s shoes, but also something of a logistic necessity.
“In an episode focused on one story, unless you want one long 22-minute scene in real time then you have to move time on across the day. Like films and other dramas do you have to use jump cuts, there’s no way around it. But in this instance it created a sense of unease in the viewer. We deliberately made them abrupt as we wanted the audience jarred and jolted, which coincides with Yasmeen’s experience.
“We wanted to unsettle the audience so they felt what Yasmeen was feeling.”
As with Sinead Tinker’s death in October 2020 that featured similarly experimental format-busting to connote the young mum slowly succumbing to terminal cancer, Yasmeen and Geoff’s tense 24 hours felt more urgent thanks to the technical tricks employed.
“As with all stylistic choices they work best when it chimes with the content,” continues MacLeod. “The story is about Yasmeen getting increasingly uneasy, her perception growing more deranged so the jump cuts help, as do some of the camera choices between the director and myself.
“These are the kind of things you see in 9pm dramas all the time, yet somehow they feel more exotic when used in a soap. But they weren’t done for the sake of it, it was absolutely to put you inside the experience of the characters.
“The more it ramps up everything gets more and more unsettling and disorienting. It’s important to put the viewer inside Yasmeen’s head, and also the ongoing story hinges on the facts versus her perceptions of the facts.
“To what degree was she in fear for her life, and to what degree was it legitimate for her to bash him with the bottle? The answer is quite nuanced but I felt it important the audience understood what was going on in Yasmeen’s mind, so when the consequences unfold in the coming weeks they have the same insight as she does.
“How she acted wasn’t simply a function of what was going on in that moment, it was an outcome of the months of preceding abuse, insidious bullying and verbal violence she has experienced from Geoff.”
The storyline has been running since last summer but a deft slow burn approach has seen it quietly become one of the soap’s most talked about plots in years. Unsurprisingly, MacLeod admits there has been much discussion behind the scenes about it’s direction.
“It’s been refined month by month in conjunction with our charity and research partners (including Women’s Aid). We’ve known pretty much from the start this incident would be one of the major peaks. It’s been organically told and we’ve agonised over the advancement of how Geoff’s behaviour evolved.
“It has been discussed in more detail than any other story I’ve worked on, just to make sure we get the nuance right.”
Viewers have watched Geoff systemically break the once-confident and self-assured Yasmeen down into a weak, terrified shell of a woman completely controlled by her insecure other half. Now isolated from her friends and family and living in total fear, the character’s plight has struck a chord with the public in a story that has shone a unique light on a type of domestic violence rarely explored on TV.
“The actors have portrayed it brilliantly,” beams MacLeod. “Shelley and Ian are so uninhibited. Soap fans feel like these people are members of their own family.
“There’s been amazing feedback from those who’ve been through this for real, saying they wish it had been on screen 10 years ago as it would’ve made them wake up and get out of the situation sooner.
“We don’t make it for this reason but it is important to have what I call good ‘drama karma’: what you’re putting on screen is karmically making the world little bit of a better place. I really think this story is.”
And that would not have been possible had it not been so disturbing to watch.