Hollyoaks' bride-to-be Maxine Minniver (Nikki Sanderson) is lying about being terminally ill, and as she's carried down the aisle by smitten fiance Damon Kinsella (Jacob Roberts) in tonight's episode he believes his betrothed has just six months to live - unaware she is in the grip of a mental illness driving her to shocking levels of deception.
Sienna Blake (Anna Passey) has discovered her ex-stepmum's deceit and is on the verge of exposing her scam at the altar, but Max knows she's planning to abduct a pair of 18-month-old twins she's convinced are her missing babies snatched by their father, so it's a case of secret stalemate between the friends. So how will this messy web of lies untangle itself?
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Doctors have diagnosed Maxine with Factitious Disorder, also known as Munchausen's syndrome, where patients pretend to be ill and fabricate symptoms to elicit attention and sympathy.
Years of psychological trauma, including an abusive marriage to toxic teacher Patrick Blake and her second husband Adam Donovan being shot dead by his gangster dad, have unsurprisingly driven Max to the edge.
Shortly after hooking up with puppy dog Damon in December 2018 Maxine fell ill, and while it was nothing serious, the level of affection and attention he lavished led to her exaggerating her symptoms to ensure the sympathy continued - fast forward six months and she's become addicted to the lies and now the whole village - thanks to a recent tongue-in-cheek cameo from Alison Hammond! - thinks she's dying.
Tonight's E4 episode (Monday 29th July) resolves the cliffhanger of Max and Sienna locked in their own secrets, but Sanderson tells us her alter ego manages to stop Ms Blake blabbing - for now. "Maxine has to tell Sienna the truth because she's been caught out, and Maxine thinks Sienna is in the middle of kidnapping these children she doesn't believe are hers," she said.
"Maxine agrees to keep Sienna's secret if Sienna keeps hers - but I don't think Maxine would have chosen to tell her anyone. She's worried about her knowing the truth as that now hangs over her."
Will Maxine and Damon's wedding go ahead?
Sanderson revealed Max does make it to the altar, and in a moment typical of this audaciously enjoyable storyline, milks the spotlight for all it's worth.
"Obviously Maxine doesn't want anyone else to have attention on her big day," she said. "As her bridesmaid Grace, who is paralysed after a car accident, is going down she gets her dress caught in her wheelchair and people rush to help her.
"Instead of Maxine feeling bad for Grace, she's angry and upset - so Maxine decides to outdo her and pretends to fall on her crutches, so Damon scoops her up in his arms and carries her to the end of the aisle!"
With Sienna and Maxine's doctor, Levi Rochester, watching as the registrar asks if anyone knows of any reason the wedding shouldn't go ahead, is the future Mrs Kinsella concerned either will pipe up?
"Maxine threatened Levi over patient confidentiality and said if he were to reveal she was faking it she would get him struck off! As for Sienna, she's got her onside but historically when those two fall out they fall out big time. Maxine is worried…"
The slow-burn plot explodes this week as Maxine spirals further into psychological meltdown. What would the consequences be if she were to be busted so publicly?
"I don't think she has any long-term plans with the lie," said Sanderson. "She's just going day by day. She just wants to be happy with Damon and her daughter Minnie and not have this hanging over her, but she has started to really love the attention it brings. It would be difficult for her to stop but she'd feel terrible about how she's treated everyone who has supported her if the knew.
"The reason she started faking illness was simply to keep Damon - she wouldn't have done any of it if she didn't genuinely love him. In all honesty, though, I have no idea how she's kept up the lying for so long. It must be exhausting!"
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