The bombs that went off weren’t exactly shockers – but that was really the point. Long-term viewers have long known that Phil had a rocky childhood, so we knew this glimpse into his early adulthood was going to be a harrowing watch.
What we may not have realized was how much of an impact a stormy night inflicted on him. Twenty years ago, Phil told the story of his abusive father, Eric, whose abuse only came to a halt when Phil was “old enough to fight back”.
It was this incident that EastEnders chose to explore in its 1979 installment – but there was a lot more to unravel before reaching that pivotal moment. At a time when Britain was ruled by Margaret Thatcher, matriarch Peggy (beautifully captured by Jaime Winstone) served her family dinner. But it was clear that husband Eric (George Russo) was calling the shots in their household.
This would later lead to a candid discussion between Peggy and her sister-in-law Glenda (Rose Reynolds) about their problematic spouses – Peggy claiming she could handle the constant bruising. Archie (Henry Garrett) came for a brief visit before heading out into the night for what Glenda knew was yet another mistress banter; but that didn’t stop him from invading Peggy’s personal space before she left.
Meanwhile, 18-year-old Phil (Daniel Delaney) and his brother Grant (Teddy Jay) have been drafted into a mission that Eric believes will provide them with real work experience. Also present was cousin Billy (George Greenland) – the man Keeble had just ordered a current Phil to turn over to the police.
It was the only real mystery in the play, as the male members of the clan committed a late-night robbery that left clumsy Billy too injured to make any real contribution. A security guard confronted the group as they were in the middle of their flight, and Eric goaded Phil into shooting him.
The man frantically pleaded that he had a child, and Phil couldn’t bring himself to accept his father’s bullying this time. As Phil and Grant helped Billy out, they heard a gunshot and Phil knew exactly what Eric had done. Eric’s fury simmered as Phil challenged his actions, setting the stage for a confrontation that would change the course of his life forever.
Back in the privacy of their home, Eric prepared to give Phil a beating – but Peggy brandished a knife and threatened him, determined to protect her boy. Eric responded by attacking his wife instead, and Phil intervened, overpowering his father.
Actor Delaney already bears an incredible resemblance to star McFadden, but in this powerful scene, he even looked like Phil. To play this character for a period before we actually knew him, while making him recognizable, is quite an achievement.
Delaney delivered an amazing character study that has the potential to reset the Mitchells going forward. After decades of gangster mayhem, EastEnders has finally hit the pause button and allowed us to understand Phil in a way we never could before.
Billy, too, will find himself at the center of much more gripping material thanks to his apparent new scapegoat status – with Perry Fenwick nailing his new script.
Yes, the murder of Keeble’s father was the cliffhanger – but it was the Mitchells’ journey that was far more engrossing. Winstone, Greenland, and Garrett all looked like their EastEnders counterparts and completely immersed us in their world.
After such a triumphant effort, there’s certainly a strong argument for more flashbacks; and even executive producer Chris Clenshaw has revealed he’d like to air a special episode focusing on beloved mainstay Patrick Trueman (Rudolph Walker), transporting viewers to 1950s Trinidad.
So hopefully, the Mitchells’ origin story is the first of many more trips down memory lane.
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