Warning: contains spoilers
Last week, Coronation Street did exactly what Coronation Street does best – delivered a storyline that leaves you breathless and forces you to confront uncomfortable but all-too-real truths.
Personally, I didn’t see this one coming – I was resolutely focussed on no-good Sharon (the scene-stealing Tracie Bennett) and her treacherous quest to track down Leanne, Nick and Simon (currently paid-up members of the world’s worst witness protection programme). As she tottered maliciously in and out of the Rovers and amongst the terraces, our eyes were, no doubt intentionally, diverted to this Cruella de Cobbles.
Meanwhile, simmering sweetly in the background was the promising romance between Nina (Mollie Gallagher) and Seb (Harry Visinoni), one of Weatherfield’s newest (and cutest) couples.
Nina is Roy’s ‘goth’ niece, a recent and hugely welcome addition to the cast; a watchable mix of spiritedness and sweetness – the perfect foil for her uncle’s captivating quirkiness (served up by the always brilliant David Neilson).
The character Seb joined the cast back in 2016 and had already received his fair share of soap heartache (including a HIV diagnosis, another well-handled storyline), but now he’d finally found love and crushingly, when you realise what’s coming, forged a strong relationship with his mum, Abi (Sally Carman).
Abi first appeared the year after Seb’s debut – she was a feckless mess who relied on her son to care for his two younger siblings (who were eventually adopted into a new family). She made me want to scream.
However, highlighting Corrie’s skill in delicate and intelligent character development, she slowly but surely turned her life around, made us care about her and was now about to marry Street stalwart Kevin (Michael Le Vell).
She chose Seb to give her away and on the eve of the wedding, whilst she and Kevin were partying it up and counting their blessings, an utterly devastating chain of events was unfolding nearby.
Soon after a fantastically heartwarming faux-proposal involving a heart-shaped, £1 ring, Nina and Seb were violently attacked. We all know who did it, we just didn’t explicitly see it.
The juxtaposition of the happiness and hopefulness of the respective stag and hen dos with the attack was chilling, but the worst (and the best, writing and performance-wise) was still to come.
At the hospital, Roy’s one-way conversations with an unconscious Nina were achingly beautiful and everyone else involved in the storyline shone brightly, but it was Sally Carman’s performance – still wearing a bride-to-be rosette under ruffled PPE – that will stay in my mind for many years to come.
Nina recovered from surgery, Seb died.
The shock, the hoping against all hope, the guilt, the regret, the anger, the absolute paralysing blow of losing someone you love so suddenly – the actress delivered it all with such immense believability, it was hard to breath.
The woman who’d once made me want to smash my telly now had me wanting to reach inside the screen, hold her tightly and make it all better.
That’s true character development. That’s true Corrie – a soap that does gold-star frivolity on a regular basis (and does so wonderfully, I might add). But this silliness can turn on a sixpence and shatter your heart, none more so than when the programme is tackling real-life issues (Aiden’s death by suicide is another exceptional example).
Nina and Seb’s story was based on a real-life event – the murder of 20-year-old Sophie Lancaster in 2007. It was Sophie’s mum, Sylvia, who helped writers create the harrowing narrative.
Sophie and her boyfriend, Robert Maltby, were horrifically beaten in Bacup, Lancashire by a group of teenagers, simply because (like Nina) they looked ‘different’. Thirteen days after the attack, Sophie’s life support was switched off.
A young life snuffed out, for what? Her loved ones’ lives forever shattered, for what?
The absolute senselessness of it all and the incalculable repercussions for family and friends are what Corrie so immaculately reflected.
And it’s just so damn sad that, more than a decade on from Sophie’s death, we need to be reminded to reject prejudice and hatred.
But if any soap can open people’s eyes and create change, it’s Corrie.
The Sophie Lancaster Foundation is a charity established in Sophie’s honour by her mum, Sylvia. The charity works tirelessly to end prejudice, hatred and intolerance against others.
Images courtesy of ITV