Emmerdale marked International Women’s Day with a special episode featuring an all-female cast and crew. Contributor @IShipVanity gives her opinion on an episode that was ‘a triumph of female togetherness’.

Emmerdale Opinions: International Women's Day episode a triumph
Some of the cast featured in Emmerdale’s International Women’s Day episode

Emmerdale celebrated International Women’s Day with a pioneering female driven special episode. Written by Maxine Alderton, directed by Sarah Kendell and featuring the majority of female cast members, it marks the Yorkshire serial drama’s consistent drive for female representation.

It isn’t the first time Emmerdale has gone down the ‘experimental episode’ route. Last year saw Charity Dingle (Emma Atkins) and Graham Foster (Andrew Scarborough) feature in flashback episodes. Exploring characters and storylines in a very stylised way, tonight’s episode felt very different. Some of the audience called tonight’s episode unnecessary, even a lazy attempt at storytelling or demonstrating inequality in itself. However, in an industry beset by gender inequality and disparity this episode was exactly what Dr Cavanagh would have ordered – a celebration of women.

Executive Producer Jane Hudson said of the ITV soap: “I believe soaps are leading the way with gender equality on set. This is a great opportunity for Emmerdale to show the female talent we have both in front and behind the camera.” Emmerdale firmly bucks the trend with its three programme leads being female with Jane joined by producers Laura Shaw and Kate Brooks trailblazing in their own way.

Statistical evidence beyond the anecdotal stories of gender inequality, reflect such a glaring problem with the lack female representation in the industry. The episode was as much to clearly demonstrate inequality in an industry alongside showcasing female talent and Emmerdale creatives that work within it.

Emmerdale Opinions: International Women's Day episode a triumph
Fri 8 Mar 2019: Chas glows with happiness as she reveals to Laurel that she’s pregnant. A happy Chas is determined to embrace her pregnancy without fear.

The episode itself was excellent and offered real inter-generational and a community feel to it, interweaving multiple storylines with good pacing and hitting the viewership with emotional punch!

Ever since Chas Dingle (Lucy Pargeter) and Paddy Kirk (Dominic Brunt) lost Grace in the most heartbreaking way possible, the Woolpack landlady has struggled mentally to cope. In one of the revelations of the episode, Chas confided in Laurel Thomas (Charlotte Bellamy) of her joyful news that she was pregnant which proved to be the episode’s lighter note.

Juxtapositioned in the joy of Chas’ news comes the trauma of losing the chance to become a mother again as Rhona Goskirk (Zoe Henry) opened her heart and soul to Diane Sugden (Elizabeth Estensen). As random as it may be to draw Rhona and Diane together, there were moments of real wisdom as only a character like Diane can provide.

Emmerdale Opinions: International Women's Day episode a triumph
Diane and Rhona were one pairing featured in the Emmerdale episode

Telling a disheartened Rhona life doesn’t stop as a women if you have a hysterectomy and you learn to draw strength. Where women fear ageing over most concerns, the inclusion of this conversation was much needed. Rhona needed support and the perspective of an older member of the community. It didn’t feel out of place to bring these two together, which was a great concern before the episode opening titles rolled.

Seeing inter-generational support was a real undercurrent of the episode and lead to a real episode highlight, seeing April Windsor-Dingle (Amelia Flanagan) battle her own insecurities. So many young girls now increasingly face the same as the social media world becomes a new platform for bullying and rejection.

Multiple characters including Tracy Metcalfe (Amy Walsh), Belle Dingle ( Eden Taylor-Draper) and Nicola King (Nicola Wheeler) offered April their support in trying to make her understand her own place in the world and how beauty comes from within.

Emmerdale Opinions: International Women's Day episode a triumph
Ladies of Emmerdale including Jessie supported April

With millions of parents across the UK sitting on their sofas with their daughters (and sons) the door will get flung open to discussions on how body image and self-esteem can play a decisive role. Giving young people the chance to open up to their parents and guardians, was a master-stroke from the Emmerdale team. Often those hugely sensitive topics surrounding young people like body image and bullying often get converted but not in a character as young as April. Bullying is a huge problem and offering this perspective was of huge value.

The emotional blows kept in coming but none as massive as the big bombshell that came hot on the heals of the phone call Charity Dingle took yesterday that sent viewers off on a massive investigation Inspector Clouseau would be proud of.

The road Charity travelled ended in heartbreak as Lisa Dingle (Jane Cox) made her return but with the news, she has a health condition that will take her life. It was amazing to see Jane’s return and in such a high profile episode it deserved.

Emmerdale Opinions: International Women's Day episode a triumph
Lisa Dingle delivered a bombshell to Charity

Those tender moments of Lisa struggling to cope with the impact her death will have cut to the core. Expertly played by Jane and Emma, it sets up a huge storyline for the entire Dingle clan, almost a changing of the potential guard between one Dingle to another of the matriarchal role.

Shock number two was Amy Wyatt’s (Natalie Ann Jamieson) return to the village, booking a flight as soon as she got home, even making it back before Kerry Wyatt (Laura Norton) signalling an all out custody war with Cain Dingle (Jeff Hordley) over Kyle Winchester (Huey Quinn).

This strikes at the very heart of parenthood where mothers and fathers fight for their children. Given Amy’s absence from the village this was a story about a mother wanting to essentially be a mother, choosing to take responsibility for her child and trying to protect them from harm. Trying to be a better mother or do what was right! Women will feel emotionally connected to Amy’s struggle and the questions it raised, and will continue to raise, will be profound.

The underlining and huge take-away from this episode will be the overriding sense of women supporting women through their respective struggles. Important in a day and age where it’s ever increasing in need, where young can support old and visa versa. Where communities come together in support no matter if it’s through joy or grief. It’s such an important message to send and Maxine’s script captured the unbreakable sisterhood women can and do have.

Emmerdale Opinions: International Women's Day episode a triumph
Kerry was surprised to see Amy in Emmerdale

Viewers have been calling for a greater sense of community from Emmerdale, with more joined up thinking tonight’s episode did this. Sarah Kendell’s direction was fabulous, pitching the scenes perfectly whilst offering dynamic framing, settings and closeness to fully draw viewers in. Interweaving narration with key points was sublimely done.

Producer Kate Brooks said of the episode before transmission: “Our International Women’s Day episode is not only a celebration of women in the broadest sense of the word, but also a showcase for the female talent we have in the television industry. We wanted the episode to be character driven and story led, exploring all aspects of what it’s like to be a woman in 2019.”

Broadly the episode fulfilled that vision demonstrating the broad spectrum of issues for women. From April’s struggles to wise words from Diane as she identified with Rhona’s concerns, heartfelt moments that truly connected across all ages. Even if it seemed at times characters were thrown together the moments shared and lessons learned were vital. Showcasing the immense talent of all the creative team and crew in the process, creatives must be duly proud.

To those who said they would boycott the episode – that’s a great shame, you missed an absolute belter!

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