Ben Mitchell (EastEnders)

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Ben Mitchell
Ben Mitchell EastEnders.png
Ben as portrayed by Charlie Jones (left) and Joshua Pascoe (right), with a "harder edge" in the latter depiction.[1]
EastEnders character
Portrayed by Matthew Silver (1996–98)
Morgan Whittle (1999–2000)
Charlie Jones (2006–10)
Joshua Pascoe (2010–12)
Harry Reid (2014–)
Duration 1996–2000, 2006–12, 2014–
First appearance 21 March 1996
Introduced by Jane Harris (1996)
Matthew Robinson (1999)
Kate Harwood (2006)
Dominic Treadwell-Collins (2014)
Classification Present; regular
Profile
Occupation Student

Benjamin "Ben" Mitchell is a fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders. The role has been played by five different actors. Matthew Silver appeared as an infant Ben from 1996–98, and Morgan Whittle played him as a toddler from 1999–2000. After a six-year absence from the series, Charlie Jones assumed the role of Ben in 2006. Executive producer Bryan Kirkwood axed Jones as part of a series revamp in 2010; the role was recast to Joshua Pascoe later that year. In May 2012, it was announced that Pascoe would be leaving in at the end of his storyline. His final scenes aired on 24 August 2012 as Ben was arrested and charged with manslaughter. On 14 May 2014, it was announced that Ben would be returning to the serial, with the part being recast to Harry Reid. He appeared from 22 September 2014.

Ben's primary storylines have seen him caught in the middle of a feud between the show's Mitchell and Beale families, abused by his father's girlfriend Stella (Sophie Thompson), developing a burgeoning interest in dance and the arts, sent to juvenile detention after attacking his bully, coming to terms with his homosexuality, stalking his father and killing Heather Trott (Cheryl Fergison) during an argument. Six weeks after his on-screen departure, it was revealed on-screen that he was the father of his third cousin, once removed: Lola Pearce's (Danielle Harold) baby; Lexi. Ben's abuse by Stella won "Best Storyline" at the 2007 Inside Soap Awards, and was nominated for the "Best Soap Storyline" accolade at the TV Quick and TV Choice Awards. In 2012, Pascoe was nominated "Villain of the Year", but lost out to Andrew Lancel (Coronation Street)

As played by Jones, Ben received generally poor reviews from critics. Grace Dent of The Guardian wrote several negative opinion pieces on the character, and contacted the BBC with a list of suggestions for humorous storylines in which he could be killed-off. Lisa O'Connell, also writing for The Guardian, was complimentary of Ben's later coming-out storyline, which she called "a perfect foundation for years of dramatic conflict".

Storylines[edit]

1996–2010[edit]

Ben is born in 1996 to Phil (Steve McFadden) and Kathy Beale (Gillian Taylforth).[2] He has meningitis as a baby, which leaves him partially deaf in one ear.[3] In 1998, Kathy moves to South Africa and takes Ben with her. Kathy marries a man named Gavin Sullivan. Kathy and Gavin are killed in a car crash eight years later, so Ben (now portrayed by Charlie Jones) returns to England to live with his half-brother Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt).[2] He eventually moves in with Phil, after his father wins a long custody battle.[4][5] Ben dislikes Phil's new girlfriend Stella Crawford (Sophie Thompson), who in turn feels that Ben is intruding on their relationship.[6][7] She abuses Ben physically and psychologically, from burning him with a hot spoon, also attempting to spoil his friendship with Abi Branning (Lorna Fitzgerald) when she discovers this, to threatening to kill Phil if Ben tells anyone about her actions.[7][8][9] Phil and Stella become engaged.[7] On their wedding day, Ben admits that Stella has been abusing him; she commits suicide by jumping from a roof.[2][10] Phil, a recovering alcoholic, begins drinking again in the aftermath, but resumes a life of sobriety for Ben's sake.[11]

Unbeknown to Phil, Ben develops an interest in dancing. He secretly takes classes, passing a dance exam, and is ultimately able to gain his father's approval.[2] In March 2010, Phil's estranged daughter Louise (Brittany Papple) comes to stay with the family.[11] She steals Ben's diary and fakes an entry which suggests he is gay.[12] In retaliation, Ben burns Louise's hand the same way Stella burnt his.[13] He later locks Louise in a summerhouse for a day, then pretends to find her to earn approval from his father. Louise blames Jordan Johnson (Michael-Joel David Stuart), an acquaintance of Ben's, but when Phil sees burn marks on Louise's arm, she reveals that Ben is to blame.[14][15] Phil worries Ben is copying Stella, and punches him when he catches Ben about to burn Louise again.[16] Questioned as to why he hurt Louise, Ben claims that Jordan is bullying him. Phil advises Ben to fight back;[17] soon after, Ben attacks Jordan with a spanner, leaving him with a fractured skull. His father warns him against admitting to the attack,[18] but Ben confesses and moves in with Ian.[19][20] After hearing from Crown Court Ben could spend time in juvenile detention, Phil plans to send him to live with his uncle Grant (Ross Kemp) abroad, but Ben refuses thanks to Peggy making him change his mind, after Shirley overhears Phil discussing the plans to Ben and receives an eight-month sentence as a result.[21][22] Phil indeed blames his mother for Ben's sentencing. He tells Peggy and Phil he is coping despite being bullied by Cal Childs (Danny Barnham), and when the family discovers this Ben asks them not to visit him.[23]

2010–12[edit]

Ben, now portrayed by Joshua Pascoe is released with a "harder edge" supposedly caused by his time in detention, and arrives home to discover Jay Brown (Jamie Borthwick), the foster child of Phil's relative Billy (Perry Fenwick), has usurped his place in Phil's affections. Ben is jealous of Jay initially but does develop a 'brotherly' relationship with him. Ben vents his anger at those who cross him, punching Phil in the face and pushing Phil's aunt Glenda Mitchell (Glynis Barber) down a flight of stairs for ruining his home coming party.[24][25]

Ben attends a gym and shares his first kiss with boxer, Duncan Willis (Steven France).[26] When they are seen kissing by shopkeeper Patrick Trueman (Rudolph Walker), Ben throws a brick through Patrick's window and tries to intimidate him into not going public about his homosexuality.[27][28] Phil observes and misinterprets their altercation, believing Patrick is assaulting Ben. He launches a vendetta against Patrick.[28][29][30] After Duncan confronts Ben about his victimisation of Patrick he tells him their kiss didn't mean anything and cuts ties with him,[30] Ben confesses to Phil. Disgusted his son is gay, Phil pushes Ben away, terrified his homosexuality will ruin his reputation.[31][32] Ben develops feelings for Christian Clarke (John Partridge), who is also gay but engaged to his boyfriend Syed (Marc Elliot). Ben tries to split them up and attempts to kiss Christian. After being rejected, Ben claims Christian touched him inappropriately as revenge.[33][34] Phil goes into a violent rampage, hitting Christian with a baseball bat, which prompts Ben to admit the truth. In the wake of this, Phil tries to accept Ben's homosexuality.[35] Billy's granddaughter, Lola Pearce (Danielle Harold), offers to have sex with Ben to test his sexuality. Ben loses his virginity to Lola in October 2011 and concludes that he is definitely gay.[36] Ben is later concerned to discover Lola is pregnant, however she denies he is the father.[37]

Ben continues to feel angst towards Phil for rejecting him. He anonymously stalks Phil, terrorising him with evidence about his past crimes. DCI Marsden (Sophie Stanton), who has been attempting to imprison Phil for over a decade, opens an investigation. She interviews Ben regarding Stella's death in 2007. Ben tells her that Phil forced Stella to jump off a building on threat of being pushed.[38] Phil plans to flee the country before arrest, but is stalled by Ben, who reveals himself as his father's stalker.[39] Phil is charged with Stella's murder and when the Mitchell family discover Ben's involvement in his father's arrest, they disown him.[40] Ben's brother Ian eventually discovers Ben lied to DCI Marsden and informs the police. Phil is released; however, Ben mistakingly believes he has been betrayed by Heather Trott (Cheryl Fergison), who also knows he set Phil up. He confronts Heather in fear and desperation, hitting her over the head with a metal picture frame, killing her. Phil returns from prison moments after Heather's murder. Feeling responsible for his son's behaviour, Phil covers up Ben's involvement with Jay's help. Ben stashes the photo frame under his bed, but lies that he disposed of it in the canal. Phil's girlfriend Shirley Carter (Linda Henry) discovers her best friend Heather dead; she vows to find the killer. Worried she will discover the truth, Ben convinces Phil to break-up with Shirley and she is thrown out of their home, while Jay is so traumatised by Heather's murder that he moves out of the Mitchells'. Ben and Phil wrestle with guilt and argue regularly, with Phil turning to alcohol. Needing to confide in someone, Ben admits his crime to Ian; the confession contributes to Ian's mental breakdown, and amidst threats from Phil to stay silent, Ian absconds, leaving Phil and Ben searching for him to no avail.

Jay later discovers the photo frame under Ben's bed and decides to report Ben to the police. Ben tricks him into giving him the frame, tears up the photo and hides the frame in a bag. When Ben and Jay decide to dispose of it properly, they discover the bag is gone, as Jean Slater (Gillian Wright) has been collecting for charity. They later see bags being collected by dustmen and assume the frame is gone, but it is actually at the charity shop. Ben and Phil both worry when Ian returns, but manage to keep him quiet. However, Shirley discovers that Denise Fox (Diane Parish) is now in possession of the photo frame. Shirley tracks where it has been and finds out that Jean collected it from Phil. Shirley tells Ben she believes Phil murdered Heather. Ben defends Phil and accidentally reveals vital evidence that only the murderer would know; Shirley realises that Ben is the murderer. Ben then locks himself in the bathroom and attempts to call Phil but Shirley kicks the door open and submerges his head in the bathtub full of water before Phil walks in. Phil manages to convince Ben not to confess to his crime, urging him to have a better life than he had. As Ben sits upstairs, Phil admits to Shirley that Ben killed Heather, but urges her to talk to him. Eventually Shirley agrees but when Phil goes to get Ben, he has disappeared. They realise that Ben has gone to the police station to confess. However, DCI Jill Marsden (Sophie Stanton) does not believe him as she thinks he is lying to get attention from Phil, while also referring to a previous report saying he confused fantasy and reality. She considers charging him for wasting police time, but DS Luke Crisp (Rufus Wright) arrests Ben for murder. He is charged the next day, and on his way to court, learns from Crisp that Jay has confirmed his story and been charged with perverting the course of justice. Phil's solicitor Ritchie Scott (Sian Webber) informs Phil that Ben could face up to 10 years in prison. Phil tries to persuade Ben to change his statement, however Ben insists that going to prison is the right thing and that he needs to be punished. Ben refuses to have any contact with anyone until he is released, leaving Phil in tears as Ben is escorted away. In October 2012, Ben's murder charge is dropped and Phil is told he will be tried for manslaughter, to which he will plead guilty. Ben then agrees to a visit from Phil, and Phil plans to tell Ben that he is the father of Lola's daughter, Lexi Pearce,[41] though he decides not to. Ben is sentenced to four years imprisonment and, after Lola visits him in prison, he discovers that he is Lexi's father.

2014–[edit]

After witnessing Ian's grief following his daughter Lucy Beale's (Hetti Bywater) murder, Phil decides to get in touch with Ben; however, Phil's lawyer Ritchie Scott (Sian Webber) reveals that Ben was released the previous month. Phil cannot get hold of him, although Jay is revealed to have seen Ben twice since his release behind Phil's back. Jay is arrested for involvement in a robbery on the night Lucy died, and it is revealed he was with Ben that night and near Walford Common, where Lucy was killed. He reveals this to Shirley, who forces him to tell Phil; Phil attempts calling Ben, but fails. Jay discovers Phil and Shirley are having an affair behind Phil's fiance Sharon Rickman's (Letitia Dean) back, and tells Ben, who returns to tell Phil that he is making a mistake marrying Sharon. He accompanies Phil to his stag night in the Queen Vic, where he bumps into Shirley, who is furious to see him back; he attempts to reason with her, explaining he supports her relationship with Phil over Sharon's. Her son Dean Wicks (Matt Di Angelo) punches him when he sees he has returned. Sharon is also unhappy to see Ben and tries to get him to leave, but later bonds with him when Roxy points out that Phil will choose Ben over her if need be. As a result, Ben supports Phil and Sharon's marriage. It is revealed that Ben had forced Jay to bury Lucy's phone and purse in the Walford allotments soon after her murder, but they are unable to find the exact location. Ben and Jay act as the best men at Phil's wedding.

Casting and characterisation[edit]

Having previously appeared as a baby and a toddler, Ben returned to EastEnders in 2006 played by child actor Charlie Jones. Jones was cast alongside Megan Jossa, who would play his cousin Courtney Mitchell.[42] While Ben is partially deaf, Jones is a hearing actor. The Guardian's Rebecca Atkinson suggested that, as only the second disabled character in EastEnders's history, Ben was introduced to fulfil a BBC quota. She criticised Jones' casting, and opined, "The use of able-bodied actors to play disabled characters is endemic. Maybe in theory there's nothing wrong with that, but while real disabled people are invisible it is downright offensive to persistently cast able-bodied people in disabled roles."[43] Scott Matthewman of The Stage sympathised with Atkinson's complaint, but defended Jones' casting: "it's hard enough to find good child actors who can cope with a soap opera environment at age 10, let alone ones that fit a character’s physical requirement set out the best part of a decade earlier."[44] Journalist Charlie Swinbourne, himself deaf, welcomed Ben's re-introduction for increasing high-profile deaf representation on television.[45]

During Jones' tenure, Ben was portrayed as being physically weak. McFadden described him as unable "to look after himself" when Ben was on the verge of being sent to a young offenders' institute. He subsequently took boxing lessons, and TV Mag's Gemma Quade noted that Ben "refuse[d] to take the coward's way out" and flee the country with his father, but nonetheless was reduced to tears upon receiving a custodial sentence.[46]

In May 2010, it was announced that Ben would be written out of EastEnders as part of the show's revamp by executive producer Bryan Kirkwood. A spokesperson said that his departure would be "one of the biggest storylines of the summer", with long-lasting repercussions.[47] Confirmation followed that Ben would be recast;[48] Joshua Pascoe assumed the part and expressed his enthusiasm to "[make] the role of Ben [his] own."[49] Pascoe first appeared on 13 December 2010.[50] Allison Maund of Inside Soap observed upon Ben's re-introduction that he bore "very little resemblance to the naive young boy he was before being sent down."[51] A later comment in the same publication contrasted the two portrayals; it described the character under Jones as "sweet young Ben, dancing around to Girls Aloud songs", and observed that as played by Pascoe, he seems "to be dancing to the Devil's tune these days".[52]

Pascoe took a break from the series in 2011, during which Kirkwood stated that viewers may have failed to connect with his portrayal of Ben, as it differed significantly from Jones'. He deemed Ben a "very complex character" and said, "we will see a softer side to Ben when he returns, but the character has evolved. The character has been brutalised in his young offenders' institute and he's also the son of Phil." Considering the character's potential, Kirkwood envisioned Ben and Jay Mitchell (Jamie Borthwick) becoming the new generation of Mitchell brothers, following on from Phil and Grant.[53]

On 14 May 2014, Digital Spy revealed Ben would be returning, with another recast later in the year.[54] Harry Reid's casting as Ben was announced on 18 July.[55]

Storyline development[edit]

Shortly after Ben's birth in 1996, he became the second character in EastEnders history to contract meningitis—the first being Vicki Fowler in 1989. As a result, he lost his hearing in one ear.[56] This launched a storyline which highlighted "the depth of ignorance surrounding HIV and Aids in Walford", when Ben's parents blamed HIV-positive resident Mark Fowler (Todd Carty) for causing his illness.[57] Phil and Kathy's marriage collapsed by the end of the year;[58] jealous of having to share his wife's attention with Ben, Phil became an alcoholic, and at one point snatched Ben and abandoned him beside a fire. In April 1998, Kathy took Ben and moved to South Africa, where her brother Ted lived.[59] For many years afterwards, Ben and Phil had a long-distance relationship. This led Kate Lock, author of Who's Who in EastEnders to assess in 2000 that away from his father's influence, "the chances of Ben developing normally are probably better than most."[60]

In 2007, Ben was part of a storyline in which he, his father, Ian and Peter Beale (Thomas Law) were involved in a car accident, when the Range Rover they were travelling in crashed into a lake. The scenes cost £1 million to produce and were filmed in Surrey over four days, partly in a specially designed stunt tank.[61] Jones had both a stunt double and dummy to supplement his scenes.[62] Despite being one of the most expensive stunts ever filmed by a soap opera, the episode drew EastEnders' lowest ever audience share and second lowest ratings due to a scheduling conflict with ITV's Emmerdale.[63][64]

EastEnders scriptwriters worked closely with the NSPCC on the storyline which saw Ben abused by Stella.[65] According to Thompson, the best aspect of the storyline was the fact she and Jones "felt so safe and comfortable with each other as actors. And obviously we knew that we were both just telling a story and it was far from real."[66] Explaining the motivation behind Stella's abuse of Ben, she revealed: "As far as Ben's concerned, she sees him as an obstacle which she has to overcome to get what she wants. And the fact she doesn't understand unconditional love, the fact she's never experienced it, goes a long way in explaining why she's treating Ben the way she is. Ultimately, Ben's in her way and she realises that she has a hold over him and she'll use that power to get him out of the way and to get that ring on her finger she has longed for."[66]

It was reported in July 2011 that Ben would come out as a homosexual.[67][68] He became the third gay character in the series at the time, and the sixteenth in its history. Kirkwood commented, "For EastEnders viewers, it was never a question of if, but more like when Ben Mitchell was going to come out as gay. The Mitchells represent the spirit of EastEnders – tough, loyal and uncompromising. To see a man like Phil learn to deal with, and ultimately accept, his gay son, is a valid story for a drama like EastEnders to embark on."[69] McFadden stated that Phil had never considered the possibility of Ben being gay, rather, he held an idealised view of his son and hoped he would become more like Jay, interested in "normal macho things". He explained that, while Phil could see his son was in turmoil, he was unaware of the depth of it, and believed Ben to be confused about his sexuality because of a prison assault.[70] In contrast, Kirkwood stated his belief that Ben's coming out would not be a surprise to Phil, and that he had "probably been dreading this news for many years." Scriptwriter Christopher Reason said that Ben's storyline would be a long-running one, which would see him "learn wrath" from his father.[71]

It was announced Fergison would be leaving Eastenders in 2012.[72] Daniel Kilkelly of Digital Spy later reported Heather would be murdered by Ben during an argument at her flat.[73] Kilkelly revealed further details of Heather's exit on 11 March 2012. He reported that Heather would die when Ben hits her with a picture frame, causing her to fall back and hit her head on a kitchen counter.[74] In May 2012, it was announced that Pascoe would be leaving in at the end of his storyline. It has been confirmed that the truth will come out about Heather Trott's (Cheryl Fergison) murder which will ultimately lead to Ben's departure, but how the truth will be revealed is being closely kept under wraps by EastEnders bosses although they did say it will be the outcome everyone is hoping for.[75] He made his final appearance on 24 August 2012.[76]

Reception[edit]

"The scriptwriters' non-stop torment of Ben Mitchell is just getting silly now. Left partially deaf after contracting meningitis as a baby, he's lost his mum and stepfather, been kidnapped by Martin Fowler, nearly drowned in a sinking Land Rover, been bullied by his dad's (now dead) fiance Stella... and is inescapably related by blood to Ian Beale. About the only good thing to happen to him lately is that he's got new specs."

—Jane Simon of the Daily Mirror on Ben's bad luck.[77]

In 2007, Ben's abuse by Stella won Best Storyline at the Inside Soap Awards,[78] and was nominated as the Best Soap Storyline at the TV Quick and TV Choice Awards.[79] During the storyline, the BBC received sixty complaints when Stella was seen to watch and laugh as bullies kicked Ben to the ground. A spokeswoman responded, "We know viewers could consider this storyline disturbing but we aim to reflect the reality of bullying."[80]

Ben as played by Jones received largely negative reviews from critics. The Guardian's Grace Dent called him a "spooky little git",[81] and her fellow Guardian writer Daniel Martin deemed him "gormless".[82] As part of an EastEnders-themed drinking game, Digital Spy's Alex Fletcher instructed players to drink beer every time Ben "is spotted whimpering on the stairs".[83] Dent suggested that Phil and Ian's fighting over custody of Ben would turn him into "the next Jeffrey Dahmer",[84] and in an article on the future of Britain's soap opera adolescents, noted that: "Albert Square will no doubt reap what it's sown with tiny, cursed, abused, accident-prone, 11-year-old Ben Mitchell. Oh it's going to be fun and games when Ben turns 16 and finds his inner anger."[85] Continuing this theme, Dent questioned "how far are they going to push this little boy?". She listed the many setbacks and problems Ben had encountered, and suggested that within five years, he would be "on top of the community centre with a rifle using [Peggy's] wig as target practice."[86] Dent later criticised a string of storylines which saw Ben endangered, from his abuse by Stella, to a car accident in which he almost drowned. She stated that his numerous pitfalls were becoming "a touch daft" and likened Ben to the often-killed South Park character Kenny McCormick. Dent hypothesised that the EastEnders scriptwriters "cheer themselves by conjuring up fresh ways to dispense with [Ben]" and said she had contacted the BBC with her own suggestions for creative deaths that might befall him.[87]

Kevin O'Sullivan of the Daily Mirror commented on "ballet-loving Ben's obsession with West End musicals, Judy Garland and dancing," and in 2008 suggested that Ben was gay, pre-dating the character's coming out by three years.[68][88] The Guardian's Lisa O'Connell welcomed the eventual decision to have Ben come out, and called the plot "a perfect foundation for years of dramatic conflict", which would "no doubt test the filial relationship to the limits."[69] The November 2011 storyline which featured Ben's false molestation accusation against Christian, and Phil's subsequent attack on him, drew criticism from singer George Michael, who stated that EastEnders's depiction of homosexuality was "insulting to the gay community." A BBC spokesperson responded, "EastEnders reflects a wide range of issues. All soap characters face their own trials and tribulations in order to create drama, however EastEnders viewers will know that this is a story about Phil Mitchell who, while struggling with his own relationship with his son, will do anything to protect him."[89]

On several occasions during his tenure, bookmakers have offered odds on Ben's storylines. In 2010, William Hill named him the 11/4 favourite to be found responsible for the whodunnit murder of Archie Mitchell.[90] The culprit was revealed during the series' first live episode – Jones was in third place at 7/1 odds to make a mistake during transmission.[91] After Jones' departure was announced, despite confirmation that the role would be recast, Ben became the favourite to be the next character killed off.[92]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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