EastEnders is getting set to break away from the usual soap style with a special and poignant episode at the end of this week – which features real families of knife crime victims sharing their devastating stories between the narrative of the fictional funeral of Shakil Kazemi.
Show boss John Yorke admitted that it was very easy to get a story like this wrong but insisted that it is important for everyone to hear the devastating stories. And the episode then comes together to merge cast and special contributors together in a final, emotional scene.
Speaking about the episode, John told Metro.co.uk: This is a very special of EastEnders. Perhaps because of our relationship with Brooke Kinsella, the subject has always felt very close to the shows heart so when the show decided to tackle it, she and her father were the very first people we spoke to to get their blessing.
The were incredibly open and in turn, opened us up to a whole new world to which we thought we knew much but in fact we knew nothing. Through them, we met the most extraordinary people who wanted to get this show right and wanted to get it completely accurate because its a tricky subject to get right and easy to get wrong.
So we talked to all the people they recommended and the more we talked, something really fascinating started to evolve which was the idea that these stories were so powerful by themselves that everyone needed to hear them.
The episode is unique for EastEnders – its real people telling their stories alongside our characters. Its been a difficult story to get right but I hope that the fans feel that we have. These people have been incredibly fantastic and brave in sharing their stories with us.
We also caught up with stars Bonnie Langford (Carmel) and Davood Ghadami (Kush) and they explained that they were nervous when they first heard about the unique episode but it also drove them to ensure that they got it right.
Davood shared: We didnt know how it was going to be approached so that was obviously exciting for us as it was a sense of the unknown. There are formulas that we follow, that we are used to – so we werent sure what to expect.
Bonnie added: I found it intriguing and exciting but I also knew that it needed to be handled so sensitively and carefully and there is that very strange dividing line – how are we going to separate art from real life? We do try to follow reality as much as possible but we are actors – we are not trying to preach in any way.
To put the special contributors in there, I think adds real gravitas. To show were not trying to sensationalise something so serious – let it speak for itself; let these people tell you because theres nothing more truthful and heartbreaking to see than that. Its been done with so much authenticity and integrity.
After meeting the people, I felt more responsible and determined to get this as accurate and emotionally meaningful as possible. I felt really honoured to be a part of it.
Davood went on: We worked with them for the full day. And you didnt know what to say. But these people wanted to come and contribute and to make this episode as truthful as possible. But the end, everyone was hugging and thanking each other. What was lovely was that there was this common goal and everyone was doing something worthwhile. They were so open to talk about their loved ones and they really wanted to. It gave us an idea on how to get our story right but it also helped them to talk about it too so it really felt like a coming together.
Pondering whether adding a real life element to an EastEnders episode, something which has never been experimented with by the show at all, could be jarring and distract from the storyline, Bonnie mused: Who knows how people will take it? Its just to really shine a light on the fact that this is happening every day to all sorts of people. Were able to dramatise it because people are invested in the characters but its a way of saying that you just have to turn your head in another direction and seeing that its happening everywhere. It could be anyone of us. Whats more important is that it doesnt diminish the real stories – because they are what matters really.
At this point, as a soap, we are turning around and going: “here you go, were passing it forward. We have told you our dramatization but this is the real thing and it is happening on every street corner.” Particularly London it seems but not just London. Life can change in a heartbeat. What is so amazing about this story is that all you normally see of these real people is just after the moment or outside a court or in a press conference.
With the form of a soap, you can see behind those closed doors when its really hurting. I wondered when the story first happened, whether when we did that mini gathering in the Square, it was going to be it. But then theres this huge funeral and the story then continues. Everyone else is getting on with their lives but these people are broken and will always be broken and thats what you can see so much in the special contributors. They dont walk round in their self pity, theyre just broken.
EastEnders airs the special episode on Friday 6th July at 9:15pm on BBC One.