By Laura Denby
EastEnders’ Sharon Watts has been at the centre of the action recently, after her discovery that lifelong friend Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt) was responsible for the death of her son Dennis during last year’s boat crash. Sharon has been at her fearless best as she masterminds a deadly revenge plot, with the soap highlighting the resilience of one of their most popular characters.
Currently masquerading as the newest Mrs Beale, Sharon has been biding her time, slowly poisoning Ian and waiting for the ideal opportunity to kill him. After years on EastEnders without any real purpose beyond sordid affairs and being the passive member of the Mitchells, all eyes are now firmly on Sharon as she continues with her murderous intentions.
The first signs of her new era were hinted at when she became landlady of The Queen Vic last summer, and it looked like she was back where she belonged. But Ian’s secret betrayal was still simmering away, and an oblivious Sharon was reduced to keeping his romantic feelings at bay and collecting glasses around the pub. When her fierce side did appear, it was frustratingly misplaced as we waited impatiently for her to realise the truth.
So when she finally snapped at Ian at Christmas, dismissing him before playing that crucial voicemail at her son’s grave, EastEnders delivered a huge turning point for Ms Watts. It was a welcome taste of what we had been missing – the return of steely-eyed Sharon. She only has to hear Denny’s panicked final words, and her determination rises.
Since it was revealed that she and ex-husband Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden) were behind Ian’s attack, we have seen Sharon seeking her own brand of justice for Denny. Her maternal instincts motivate all her decisions, and despite her ongoing grief she is stronger than we have seen her in years.
It could have been a risk for EastEnders to pick apart the oldest friendship in soap, and yet it makes perfect sense in terms of who Sharon is. Ian’s web of lies have made his deceit unforgivable, and it would have been a poor reflection on one of the toughest Walford women if the soap had chosen for her to let it go.
Ultimately the outcome of Sharon’s scheme is irrelevant, because the build up has been worth every second. The focus is very much on her, with Ian’s role as a victim secondary to Sharon’s journey.
The continuous tension as Sharon makes Ian suffer has produced some of her most captivating scenes ever. Stood behind the bar with an icy gaze one minute, and acting like a doting wife the next, she has been revived by this storyline.
Actress Letitia Dean has perfectly recaptured her character’s ruthless side, and it’s refreshing to see Sharon take full control. This week Phil told her “you’re the strongest woman I know – and I’m Peggy Mitchell’s son.” It’s a fitting comparison, and only highlights further that Sharon is much more powerful without a man by her side – just like the legendary Peggy (the late, great Dame Barbara Windsor).
Sharon’s vulnerability is also shining through at just the right moments. As a wilting Ian declared how lucky he felt to have her, we saw every emotion flicker across her face; from that murderous glint, to a hint of regret at their broken friendship, to the face of a devastated mum. These days we are gripped by Sharon’s mere presence, with or without dialogue.
Sharon is always at her best when she is on a mission – and she is well-known for her fighting spirit when it comes to family. One of her most memorable episodes saw her confront Chrissie Watts, after finding out she had killed her father Den. Arriving with the police in tow, she threw an almighty punch that knocked Chrissie off her feet. Sharon has been through so much since then, and yet she is still standing tall; driven by a mixture of unconditional love and fury.
This week, Max Branning (Jake Wood) became suspicious, and guilt soon surfaced for Sharon after speaking to Ian’s mum Kathy (Gillian Taylforth), who is growing more concerned by the day. Identifying with the built in sense of worry that comes with being a mother, Sharon called off her plan. But painful details about Denny’s ordeal changed her mind, and she prepared to drug Ian one final, fatal time.
Wherever this storyline takes her, one thing is certain. She was already iconic, but now EastEnders has re-established Sharon as a true soap matriarch. And long may she reign.
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