Eastenders have undoubtedly set the standard in ground-breaking socially distanced camera trickery (tennis balls at the ready!). This has included big group shots around the Christmas dinner table, some very powerful stunts and almost a full episode devoted to the engagement of Ben Mitchell and Callum Highway.
The clever effects and talented crew, combined with the outstanding acting work from every member of the cast, have ensured that the audience still feels as involved in the lives of the characters today as they did before the global pandemic hit, in 2020.
So why the uproar on social media, amongst some fans who identify as part of the LGBTQ community, at the idea of the ‘Ballum’ wedding being filmed with social distancing? Surely it will still be an event to remember – whether all goes to plan, or not!
The answer, for many, is representation. So let’s dig into the numbers.
Since same-sex marriages were legalised, in 2014, 2.5% of all weddings in England have been between same-sex couples and since this change in the law in 2014, there have been 15 on-screen weddings in Walford. Equal representation would say that only 0.375 of these weddings would have been same-sex unions, if we were to stick to the figures. So, by rights, it is more than fair then, that this is the first one we are seeing.
However, the resentment comes from the underestimation of the significance of this first gay wedding since same-sex marriage was legalised, 7 years ago. The wedding of Christian and Syed lives fondly in the memories of the LGBTQ community for its place in history, coming just before the change in the law, and the wedding of Ben and Callum could potentially hold a similar place, were it given the landmark treatment the LGBTQ community feel it deserves.
There would be no holding hands, no kiss, no first dance, unless performed by a ‘stunt couple’, and that is where some of the upset comes from. As tender as it could be to see a real-life gay couple play out the roles, the first time a gay marriage would be celebrated on EastEnders, it would lack the natural flow of scenes not subject to Covid restrictions.
What do the community want done about it? From rumblings on social media, the general consensus is that it could have been pushed back and the ‘Ballum boys’ could have enjoyed a long engagement until it was safe to film naturally again.
By having the union play out now, it could be remembered in the future for being a very good socially distanced wedding filmed under very difficult circumstances. Whereas, deferring for a while, until restrictions lift, the first gay wedding in EastEnders could go down in history and be remembered as a testament to same sex couples and families everywhere.
This is not to say that the entire crew wouldn’t do an amazing job at bringing the wedding to life, or that the actors couldn’t bring as much heart to the performance whether two metres or two millimetres apart. But it is more that, for an EastEnders first, and for the visibility of LGBTQ characters on screen, to the growing LGBTQ community it feels like the importance and value has been somewhat missed.
However, the one thing the fans are very clear on, is their devotion to the actors and their welfare. It is generally agreed that their safety should come first so, if a socially distanced wedding is what keeps both Max and Tony safe, the fandom will take it – as long as Ben and Callum live happily ever after… Yeah, right!