Sunday, January 27, 2013

Michelle Ma Belle

This is Michelle Fowler (as was):-

This is not:-

Yes, we know Michelle left Walford in 1995, bound for Birmingham (Alabama, that is) and carrying (literally) a mighty secret - she was pregnant with Grant Mitchell's baby.

Yep, that Grant Mitchell, one-time husband of her best friend Sharon. One has to say that, with friends like Michelle, Sharon certainly didn't need any enemies. When she was sixteen, Michelle slept with, and got pregnant by Sharon's father, Den Watts, resulting in Sharon's younger sister Vicky being Michelle's daughter. 

This time, she's having a baby by her best mate's ex. To top that, when she arrived in Alabama, she met and married a local academic and subsequently moved to Florida - the same state where Sharon lived - to raise her son. Whilst Sharon knows all the lairy details about Vicky, I don't think she's ever been apprised about little Mark Whatever's biological paternity.

Anyhoo, the storyline, in and of itself, was developed as a key to the door, should Susan Tully, the actress who'd played Michelle for ten years (since the show's inception), ever want to return and Ross Kemp, he who played Grant, still be hanging about. As things happened, once Tully left EastEnders, she abandoned acting and turned her trade to working on the opposite side of the camera, becoming a director of some note.

Grant left, a widower from his second marriage, with his young daughter by his second wife, in 1999.

As odd as it may seem, Michelle never returned to Walford. Her excuse for not coming to her father's funeral was that she was giving birth to the unknown Mitchell sprog. She had no excuse for not attending her brother's funeral, and even less of one for not attending her mother's. When her wayward daughter nicked her credit card, skipped school and flew to London to live with her nan, Michelle made one phonecall and did nothing else, allowing the kid to stay. That was a bit odd. If one of my kids nicked my plastic and set me back to the tune of around 400 quid, ending up on the other side of the ocean, I wouldn't sit around on my arse and let them stay where they couldn't be punished somewhat or at least made to feel guilty. Besides, Vicky was then a minor, and it was against the law in the US for her to leave full-time schooling. Michelle would have been prosecuted, fined heavily and could even have been imprisoned for Vicky's truancy.

Suffice it to say, that Michelle has totally gone native and chooses to remain, basking in the sunlight of Florida.

One of the better decisions of various executive producers has been not to re-cast Michelle (although I reserve judgement of their ever introducing Vicky). After all, Tully was Michelle for ten years, and people identify her with the role exclusively. And whilst some re-casts have worked - Todd Carty for the late David Scarborough as Mark Fowler, Jacqueline Jossa for Madeleine Duggan as Lauren Branning and Joshua Pascoe for Charlie Jones as Ben Mitchell and, chiefly,  Barbara Windsor for Jo Warne as Peggy Mitchell - others have not - Kim Medcalf for Daniela Westbrook as Sam Mitchell, in particular.

Carty and Scarborough were similar physically, and Scarborough's Mark wasn't in the show actually long enough to be embedded in the public's mind as the definitive Mark. Although Warne was the direct physical opposite to Barbara Windsor, Peggy the First was ever only an incidental character, brought in for the odd episode when she was needed. Jossa and Pascoe were older actors needed in order to effect an added dimension to the characters they played. Face it, you'd never imagine Charlie Jones braining Heather.

Medcalf's Sam Mitchell was a totally different character to Daniela Westbrook's sam. Medcalf was the ditzy but nice girl next door, who was anything, if not earnest. Westbrook's ditzy Sam had an element of bitch about her that was undeniable. I liked them both, but for different reasons.
But for all of that, Michelle has been the one character whom successive EPs have never wanted to re-cast. For them, it was the original or nothing, and - as Tully no longer acted - it was nothing. Michelle would not return to Walford.

However, that hasn't stopped people, from time to time, whining and pining for a Michelle return. The infamous Scottish troll, Biffo/Blossom/Big Gray/Sally/Supernatural has often argued, across two fora (one now defunct),vociferously and often rudely, about recasting Michelle Fowler. 

The latest bod to jump feet-first into this murky water is Walford Web Kindergarten's resident name-dropper, TimWil, who even has an actress in mind for the re-cast. He lays his cards on the table in a thread which you can read here.

TimWil is lobbying for TPTB to cast English actress Anna Maxwell Martin in the role. That's her picture above, the one who isn't Michelle Fowler.

I'm not saying that there isn't a resemblance. There is. But Maxwell Martin is ten years younger than Tully and is a stage-trained actress (who's also done film and television) who specialises in the well-spoken, pearls-and-twinset middle class type or the upstairs version of a well-bred heroine in a period drama. I don't know if Maxwell Martin can do Cockney - or even Southern American because after 18 years living exclusively in the US, Michelle would have adapted American vocabulary, verbal mannerisms and a distinct trace of a twang - but I don't think she's the type to consider the soap genre as worthy of her presence, even for a guest stint as Michelle.

TimWil wants Maxwell Martin to return with Mark Whatever/Grant Jnr to lay a shock on Walford that may just prove to be nothing more than a ripple effected by some breeze blowing down the canal. Why?

First of all, Mark Whatever would be seventeen years old now - the veritable all-American boy. Having been brought up in Florida, he'd be into baseball, gridiron, a smidgeon of soccer, and basketball - not to mention, surfing. Yet again, we'd be subjected to another pasty-faced British youth, using that godawful stereotypically gutteral American accent which no one uses, until one day, inexplicably, he'd revert to a British accent with the reason being he wanted to fit in or something stupid like that.

Secondly, for this to have an impact, Grant has to be living in Walford for some reason or another, and Sharon should still be there. An even bigger impact would involve Peggy being there too. At the moment, Grant's still in Portugal (and there's been no mention of Ross Kemp returning) and Peggy's in Cornwall, and she's not returning either. As for Sharon, she's been reincarnated as the Brannings' Satellite of Lurrrve. She'd be too well over Grant, in these writers' shared collective braincell, to even care.

Thirdly, without all of the above, that only leaves Uncle Phil, and whilst Phil's in need of a family at the moment, unless Mark Whatever would return with a stereotypically American psychopathic interest in guns and such, Phil wouldn't think him 'ard enough; and if he were interested in finding an illegal piece to try some target practice, Phil would back off a mile from having to deal with another psycho.

Fourthly, who the fuck would even care?

Dot might warble "ooh-I-say" and order a medicinal sherry, and Ian might be surprised; but apart from that, the Fowlers are either dead or gone, and there'd be no one who'd be remotely interested in Pauline Fowler's daughter popping up with an American kid who's a blood relation of the Mitchells.

The storyline was a contingency plan, had Tully wanted to return. She didn't, and Kemp left, so it was shelved. Michelle isn't returning, not with Tully playing her and certainly not recast.

Tully graced our screens for ten years, a decade, as Michelle Fowler. So strong and impressive a character was she and so good an actress that no one, not even Ms Maxwell Martin with her passing resemblance, could hope to make the character her own.

Sometimes when a professional sportsman has given his utter best to the team for whom he's played throughout his career and he retires, as a mark of respect, the team retires his jersey, complete with the number, which would forever be associated with the player.

EastEnders have "retired" Michelle as a character now. Let's leave it at that.

1 comment:

  1. Has she not been in Eastenders before? Do you remember Martin's stalker? She looks like her.