Why Den and Angie’s two-hander is still one of EastEnders’ greatest episodes 34 years on

Den and Angie in EastEnders
(Picture: BBC)

 

With EastEnders having gone off the air for the first time in history, the soap is re-airing a series of iconic instalments every Tuesday night in order to compensate for the lack of new episodes.

The BBC soap has been home to many moments which one would deem ‘iconic’, and therefore — with 6,124 episodes having been produced thus far — narrowing it down to just a few was no doubt a difficult task.

The first chosen to be re-broadcast is the classic Den and Angie (Leslie Grantham and Anita Dobson) two-hander from 1986 — the soap’s 174th episode — and while it certainly fits the bill, one might have been taken aback by the decision to re-air it.

Why? Well, when we think Den and Angie, we think of the scene in which the former issues the latter with divorce papers on Christmas Day.

And why shouldn’t we? The scene is the epitome of EastEnders. Marital affairs. Secrets and lies. Queen Vic drama. Yes, everything that we’ve come to love about the serial drama is very much present in this moment.

Therefore, one might’ve expected to see it re-air instead.

Den and Angie in EastEnders
The iconic Christmas showdown was set in motion during the two-hander (Picture: BBC)

 

However, what some might not know is that, yes, as a singular moment, the Christmas divorce papers is an incredible one but, when placed in context with the events that led up to it, it’s a hell of lot more powerful.

You see, the divorce paper drama was set in motion several months — and, in some ways, years — earlier.

Den and Angie’s marriage had always been a tumultuous one. Den had a penchant for adultery — which Angie knew about, and yet she could never bring herself to part with him.

He often told his mistresses that he’d never leave Angie, which in a sense made things complicated as the more he cheated, the more Angie — who battled alcoholism — hit the booze.

On and on the cycle went — that is, until it didn’t. Yes, Den — having spent a long time in the company of Jan (Jane How) — came to realise that he was falling more and more in love with her. What’s more, Jan wanted to live freely with him, and therefore, he found himself being forced to make a choice.

Den and Angie in EastEnders
Angie was desperate to ensure Den bought her illness lie (Picture: BBC)

 

Meanwhile, clever Angie knew full well what her hubby was up to, what with her having visited Jan on multiple occasions, and she sought to do whatever it took to stop him from leaving her.

Therefore, with Den planning on leaving Angie, and Angie willing to do just about anything to prevent such a thing from happening, a stalemate was reached, and the stage had been set for the ultimate showdown.

Now, a showdown such as this — with a year-and-a-half’s worth of excellent storytelling behind it — required viewers’ full attention, and that’s where the two-hander came in.

The events of this episode ensured that the Den and Angie cycle was broken, as Den’s revelation sought to shatter it. The elephant in the room had finally been addressed.

For Den, it was the beginning of a new chapter — that is, until Angie withdrew her trump card, as she feigned a terminal illness in an effort to make him stay with her.

The conflict was rife, the animosity was aplenty and yet the dynamic between the two characters was never better than it was here — something which can be attributed to Anita and Leslie’s performances.

Den and Angie in EastEnders
Den and Angie’s finest hour (Picture: BBC)

 

Jane Hollowood — who penned several of the soap’s finest hours during it’s first couple of years including its very first — delivered a truly spectacular, somewhat theatre-esque script, which allowed for material to breathe.

The way in which said script holds one’s interest the entire way through is no small feat, while subtle things such as the unsettling sound of the washing machine, and the levity of the uncredited window cleaner aided in creating an excellent atmosphere.

What’s more, minimal cuts and stunning direction — courtesy of Antonia Bird —allowed for Anita to deliver her greatest performance during her three-and-a-half year stint on the soap.

As a singular instalment, it’s a masterclass in just about every department and, contextually, it’s a hugely important one for the soap.

These events ultimately set in motion that iconic Christmas scene, as Angie’s lie being exposed made Den seek revenge — which he later delivered in the form of divorce papers.

Therefore, this two-hander is, in a sense, responsible for the most iconic moment in the soap’s history, which — by association — also makes it an iconic outing.

Well, that, and the fact that it’s a superbly written, directed and acted episode.

Also, it’s worth noting that — while EastEnders now has something of a reputation for thrilling two-hander episodes — this was the very first of its kind, and therefore paved the way for all those that came later.

Yes, Den and Angie’s two-hander is undoubtedly their finest hour, and as an EastEnders instalment — two hander or not — it remains one of the soap’s greatest offerings.

EastEnders: Den and Angie is available to watch on The BBC iPlayer.

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