(Picture: Jenny Slife for Metro.co.uk)
Soaps have a very strict formula that should never be strayed from. The pub is the central hub of the community. The neighbours all know one another. Everyone should be able to get a
But the most important rule of all? Women need to be the centre and most dominant force of the genre. The men can be supporting players – hey, you can even allow them to gain iconic status now and again, so long as they are held up by a classic soap female.
The women are the lifeblood of soap – and this has always been the way at EastEnders. Show producer John Yorke has always been a firm believer in this – a show that has produced the likes of Pauline Fowler, Dot Branning, Pat Butcher, Janine Butcher, Kat Slater, Angie Watts and Peggy Mitchell can’t be about anything else.
One of the first things John did since returning was to pack out a house with an eclectic mix of strong, fierce soap women – Stacey, Kat, Mo, Jean, Whitney and Tiffany all under one roof is a
Right now, there are some truly iconic characters just winning at soap. If you want the perfect soap female, look no further than these:
One of soap’s best newcomers of last year, brash, confrontational and fearsome Karen was not an instant hit with the community as she rampaged into Albert Square bringing chaos in her wake. But beneath the exterior of aggression and sometimes ignorance lies a heart that beats solely for her kids.
Karen is the definitive formula for a great EastEnders woman – she takes no shit, she has some incredible one liners and family are the most important thing to her. She is flawed, she makes mistakes and she has become the person that she is by enduring an array of devastating hardships.
She currently relies on no man and kicked Keegan’s deadbeat dad Mitch to the kerb when he betrayed her, refusing to then show her hurt in front of her children. She is always at the front of any community scene making her foghorn voice heard – if that stool hadn’t have smashed the Queen Vic’s window when Kat came back, then Karen’s voice certainly would have.
She isn’t always a likeable character – she was punching people in the mouth and going all Battersby on the neighbours when she arrived. Her lack of education has shown her to be accidentally bigoted at times and her rants expose other lapses of knowledge.
But Karen is relatable – sure, she is heightened for drama and comedy, but we all know a Karen. She is harmless and when she is fighting your corner – like she is currently doing for Ted Murray – she is the best and warmest ally to have. And despite the constant struggles they go through, her family are lucky to have her. Lorraine Stanley plays Karen fantastically well – to the point where you wouldn’t recognise her in real life – and we are certain that this is a character and actress with an extremely exciting EastEnders future.
It doesn’t matter if I have known you for years or I sit next to you on a bus, I will tell you how much I love Shirley Carter. Linda Henry’s deadpan delivery of some of EastEnders’ best lines has created a miserable, sarcastic, bitter dream of a character who is the gift that keeps on giving.
Rough as a diamond wrapped in sandpaper and far from the mother of the century, Shirley has been in more messes than we can remember and yet no matter how many people she barks at, how many insults she throws or how much she screws up, we can’t help but love her.
Shirley is the glue that holds the Carter family together. Sure, Danny Dyer is an EastEnders coup but we’re sure even the guy himself would admit that a Carter is nothing without Shirl. While EastEnders haven’t been overly generous with Shirley storylines of late (something which I am hoping they change), she still manages to make any scene she is involved in that much more entertaining.
As with every divisive soap character, the real charm of Shirley is her hidden depths. I would pay good money for a 90 minute soliloquy of Shirley Carter slapdowns but where we really love her is when she cracks that smile, makes a sacrifice for her family, shows some emotion or forms an unexpected friendship (RIP Heather, welcome back Jean)
Shirley is EastEnders through and through – hardened by life, takes no prisoners, dialogue to kill for, flawed as hell but someone who is still capable of love on occasion and fights for her faaaaamily above all else.
Long may she reign!
Sharon has gone through a fair few personality transplants in her time in Walford. She has been a criminal’s moll as the right hand woman of Phil Mitchell, she has been feisty as hell as the Queen Vic landlady, she has been downtrodden by several men and she has been akin to the mushiest fan fiction during the Shannis years.
But as Sharon has started to regain an identity that is more than just being Phil’s trophy wife, a trap she had fallen into of late, she is starting to get her edge back. No longer are we seeing a Sharon who would just stand by and accept nosey Sonia shoving her into a pool full of rubber duckies.
Sharon is back to fighting sass with sass. As a group of grown men ran about town trying and failing to out-threaten each other, she had the heist money all along. As Mel and Phil wound her up, she got gloriously drunk and retorted with some home truths in the most wonderfully camp soap scene of the year.
While we don’t know if the plan is to split Phil and Sharon, it is welcome to see the show acknowledging what she had become of late and taking steps to re-introduce the Sharon we know and love. But alongside her strength (and you have to be strong to survive everything that Sharon has been through), a new layer has been added of late.
We can’t get enough of the Hyacinth Bucket/Sally Metcalfe edge Sharon has gained as she sees herself as a bit of the elite in Walford. She laughed heartily when Karen Taylor branded the Slaters worse scum in the Albert Square heirachy. She looked down on Kat in judgement when she returned from the dead. And she maintains those catty one liners, glossy looks and that air that makes her the queen of Albert Square. Even if she isn’t really.
The mix has led to Sharon having the real potential to be both fearsome and funny, both hardened and loveable. Sharon will always make mistakes with men but she is the one who is still around and who still has that whiff of superiority. No one could get as much wrong as Sharon and still get away with that act like she can.
At first, we were unsure of the purpose of bringing Mel back – thrusting her into the centre of the gangster and heist plot as the lapdog of Ciara Maguire was a risk as it didn’t exactly make us root for the character. But since that saga has closed and Mel has been explored more as a character rather than a henchwoman, we have rediscovered our love for her and everything that made her great the first time round.
Mel refuses to be defined by men and while the character will always have that habit of falling into relationships that are destructive, she is about so much more. Mel’s only real blindspot this time round is her son Hunter.
She played Phil, she played Sharon and she has men like Ian and Billy running after her like desperate puppies in heat. She is once again queen of the nightlife and strolls around the Square with purpose.
Tamzin Outhwaite plays her with a great edge but ever hard and tough woman needs a soft centre in soap and Mel’s Achille’s Heel is her need to protect Hunter from difficult truths – and it could be this which has shaped him into the menace that he is becoming.
Mel is entertaining to watch and despite having a few traits that make her difficult to like, you can’t help but root for her. In a Square that has a heap of alpha males fighting and wheezing for dominance, Mel can knock them all flying like skittles.
Put simply, she is badass and we love her for it.
Kim is the perfect example of how a character who is generally played for laughs can also be one of the strongest and likeable women in the show. Kim is known for being a comedy character – her sass knows no bounds and it is for that reason that the audience adore her so much. She can put people in their place with a single look and she is fun loving and full of energy in a community that is constantly ravaged by tragedy and disaster.
Kim is the light of EastEnders – she brings warmth, laughter and silliness and she is just the kind of woman that we’d all love to go for a drink with. EastEnders’ strongest scenes are when a group of women get together for a few drinks and Kim is always a highlight of this.
She is a hoot but she also has a soul and a real depth that comes out to play, sometimes when you don’t expect it. Her want and need for something better sometimes comes over as spoilt but in actual fact, she just wants to give Pearl the best.
Her hurt and confusion over Denise’s baby decision and her delight at discovering that they are sisters after all were heartwarming. And while she seems to be constantly horny for Vincent, their relationship is clearly a lot deeper than hot bedroom action. Kim loves him deeply and it’s a shame that it’s about to end badly for her – and therein will lie some more honest performances from the very diverse Tameka Empson.
Kim is outrageous, loud and madder than a box of frogs but she also has a very grounded and warm side to her. She would be our ideal Walford BFF – you’d never guess what would happen next but you would also know she’s made you laugh and have your back. What more could you want?