Infidelity, mental illness, sexuality, terminal illness and addiction. These are just a few of the real-life issues prevalent in society that BBC soap opera Eastenders has explored and accurately portrayed over the past 36 years. The latest storyline, starring Danny Dyer, focuses on the stigma surrounding male sexual abuse, providing an importantly accurate representation of the complexities of accepting and dealing with abuse as a victim.
The show writers worked closely with Samaritans in order to ensure an accurate portrayal and encourage viewers in similar positions to seek help
The storyline started back in October 2020 when Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) was confronted with his estranged daughter Frankie (Rose Ayling-Ellis). Viewers were understandably expecting a classic soap opera secret affair storyline, but were shocked when the bombshell was dropped that Mick was only 12 years old when he fathered her. After selling his pub ‘The Queen Vic’, helping his wife Linda through her long battle with alcoholism, and now being confronted with a secret daughter and the possibility that he was a victim of child-abuse, the usual happy-go-lucky family-man was watching his life turn upside down in 2020. This only got worse when Mick (whose personal battle with anxiety and depression has been well documented) was put face-to-face with his abuser Katy in November.
In classic Eastenders style, the storyline has been stretched across 5 months (and counting). However, whilst most storylines of Britain’s most popular soap opera feel unnecessarily dragged on and culminate in viewers losing patience with the show, the Mick Carter abuse storyline feels like it has been handled sensitively and accurately, with the slow pace and gradual progression reflective of the complex nature of the storyline.
The pressures of being a man, a father, a husband often engulf men’s ability to process their emotions…
To quickly summarise, Mick was sexually abused by his care worker, Katy, when he was put in care as a child. When Katy fell pregnant with Mick’s child, he was not made aware. This is until, fast forward over 30 years, Frankie appears in Mick’s life and it all comes rushing back to him. The accurate portrayal of the difficulties of processing and accepting victimhood of sexual abuse, particularly as a man, is clearly seen when Mick says to his wife Linda, ‘I don’t want to be the geezer that needs help. I want to be a husband, a father.’
Unfortunately, this attitude is extremely common in society. The pressures of being a man, a father, a husband often engulf men’s ability to process their emotions and prioritise far more important things such as their mental health. Just like Mick, 40% of men claim that it would take suicidal thoughts or self-harm before they would seek professional help regarding mental health, despite the majority of men accepting that their mental health is negatively impacting all aspects of their life.
The storyline shows the ongoing battle inside Mick’s head, in which he contemplates revealing the extent of the abuse to his wife and family for months, while simultaneously watching his life fall apart in other ways. This ongoing battle reached a summit over the Christmas period, when he stood on the roof of the The Queen Vic (while on the phone to charity group Samaritans) and considered taking his own life.
The bravery of writers to tackle stigmatised subjects that appeal and relate to viewers is a key reason for the popularity of soap-operas
After eventually opening up to Linda and his family, and subsequently seeking professional help, Mick appears to be on the road to recovery. This shows the power of reaching out to people and opening up. Executive producer Jon Sen explained that the show writers worked closely with Samaritans in order to ensure an accurate portrayal and encourage viewers in similar positions to seek help. The sensitivity and intricacy of the subject is clearly seen in the scriptwriting, with all the actors involved also receiving recognition for their breath-taking performances.
Although Eastenders is no stranger to tackling difficult subjects and delivering ground-breaking episodes, it’s perhaps surprising that this particular topic hasn’t been covered very frequently across television. The bravery of writers to tackle stigmatised subjects that appeal and relate to viewers is a key reason for the popularity of soap-operas, particularly in the UK. The recognition and significance of the Mick Carter abuse storyline is an encouraging reminder that Britain’s most popular soap is as important as ever.
In article images courtesy of bbceastenders via Instagram. No changes made to these images.
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