Emmerdale: Ashley's Story
December 20, 2016 1:44 PM - All Seasons - Subscribe

Emmerdale (formerly Emmerdale Farm) is a decades-running rural UK soap. Tonight's Very Special Episode focussed on the character of Ashley, who over recent months has been shown suffering from dementia. In a break from the form, tonight's episode was shown entirely from Ashley's point of view.
posted by comealongpole (7 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I wasn't sure that this would get mentioned on Fanfare, hence my rather thin post as an alternative to (perhaps) nothing.

I'm an occasional Emmerdale viewer at best. It's hard to know or care who "belongs" to whom and the theme tune is usually the cue for me to head to the kitchen to start dinner, however tonight I was lucky(?) enough to watch it with my Mum instead and I don't mind admitting that it had both of us in floods of silent tears at times.

The choice to recast regular characters as a way of illustrating Ashley's inability to recognise people he knew was brave, clever and deeply affecting for me. The fact it wasn't presented as a twist or similar is to the programme's credit. I can't imagine anyone watching hadn't figured it out at some point before the end.

I've used the phrase "Very Special Episode" above, but for clarity, this is probably the first time I've used it without my Cynical '90s Kid Hat on, indeed I'll probably never use it in bad faith again.

Having watched the episode I texted round friends to see if they'd seen it. One of the comments I made was that it was more like something one might expect from Jimmy McGovern at 9pm on BBC than an early evening soap. I definitely think it's a best-of-the-decade piece of television like e.g. The Singing Detective, Black Mirror or The Shadow Line, although it draws its power from familiarity-with and breaking-from what's been shown before, rather than being a great episode for an unfamiliar viewer in isolation. Alt!Laurel was excellent though, and entirely believable as Ashley's distressed wife. Quality stuff.

(Apologies if this post/comment combo is something better suited to the Blue or my blog than here on Fanfare).
posted by comealongpole at 2:18 PM on December 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Never watched Emmerdale, but recasting-as-dementia is a devastatingly effective and elegant storytelling choice. Wow.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:42 PM on December 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

EMMERDALE returned to its original set during last night’s Ashley Thomas dementia episode. (I haven't watched Emmerdale either, but I agree, "devastatingly effective" sounds like a perfect way to describe the thought this show put into this episode.
posted by gladly at 12:32 PM on December 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a big fan of English-language, non-American soaps but have only caught a few episodes of Emmerdale. This sounds amazing though. I really like it when soaps tell stories in a way that are unique to the genre; when the audience has lived with a character for so long in a place for so long, switching actors and sets to the unfamiliar or the previously familiar is just so smart.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:53 PM on December 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

I looked at the Guardian site in hopes that Nancy Banks Smith had reviewed it, but to no avail. I've experienced most of the big events in soap through the eyes of Nancy Banks Smith, and I miss it. I think the last time I saw Emmerdale Farm it was on at lunchtime, and Frazer Hines was still relatively young.
posted by Grangousier at 3:47 PM on December 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

I just wanted to say thank you for this post - I haven't watched Emmerdale for years, but my dad does, and his wife's mother has dementia, so when we had a phone call this morning about how he's coping with her over Christmas, because I'd seen this post we could talk about this episode and how it had helped his understanding of what she's going through (which he hasn't previously been very empathic about).
posted by theseldomseenkid at 5:23 AM on December 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Wow, cheers for sharing that theseldomseenkid, that's really cool. Just proves that these sorts of Very Special Episodes do have real merit (plus a long, indirect reach).
posted by comealongpole at 7:13 PM on December 26, 2016

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