The Secret Mitchell
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"The Secret Mitchell" was a storyline of the BBC soap opera EastEnders, involving the characters of Ronnie Mitchell (Samantha Womack) and Danielle Jones (Lauren Crace), starting in May 2008 and climaxing on 2 April 2009.
In May 2008, Ronnie Mitchell (Samantha Womack) revealed that at the age 14, she had given birth to a daughter who her father Archie (Larry Lamb) had given away just hours after being born. After he returned with Peggy (Barbara Windsor) in July 2008 announcing their engagement, Ronnie grew distant from her father and aunt. Then in August 2008, a mysterious character, Danielle Jones (Lauren Crace), appeared becoming friends with Stacey Slater (Lacey Turner). It was quickly learned that Danielle was actually Amy, the daughter that Ronnie had given up as a teenager. In October 2008, after arguing with Ronnie due to Stacey threw water over her for not letting them attend a VIP event at R&R, she went back to the Slaters' and collapsed on the floor crying and revealed that she had the other locket, identical to Ronnie's. She then tried to get close to Ronnie, but with failed attempts leading to her sleeping with a barman at R&R on 23 December 2008. Then in January 2009, she discovered she was pregnant. She confided in Ronnie who told her that she had given away a baby once, not realising that she was talking to that baby. Danielle and Ronnie then decided that she should have an abortion, even after her adoptive father, Andy Jones, tried to persuade her not too, she went ahead with it on 20 January 2009. She nearly told Ronnie her true identity. After deciding to leave Walford and return home to Telford, she left deciding that Ronnie would not want her in her life.
She however returned in February, Danielle confided in Stacey that Ronnie is her mother, but stated that she is trying to find the right time to tell her. She was furious when Stacey kissed Paul and tells him about her abortion, even more so when Stacey threatened to tell Ronnie the truth. Danielle pinned Stacey to the wall and warned her off this course of action, but began to make attempts to reveal her true identity to Ronnie. She became increasingly angry with her mother, going as far as to daub "evil cow" on her front door. Danielle decided that she would tell Ronnie who she really is, and then leave Walford for good, but was stopped by Archie who discovered she is his granddaughter. He had previously lied to Ronnie that Amy had died as an infant, so in order to preserve his story, he convinces Danielle that Ronnie suffers from depression, and she should keep quiet until he decides the time is right to make her revelation.
During the end of March, Danielle grew more and more desperate to tell Ronnie, even believing that when she told her, she would be a bridesmaid at Archie and Peggy's wedding. Then on 31 March (although set on 1 April), Archie prepared to kill Danielle by strangling her to death. He however failed and told Danielle to leave for good. Danielle didn't however and on the wedding day, placed her locket in Ronnie's wine glass and attempted to leave with her newborn cousin, Amy. She then admitted to Ronnie after a seven month silence that she was her daughter. Ronnie refused to believe her and helped her father throw her out claiming 'Who would want to have a daughter like you!'. Danielle then found a drunken Stacey and planned to leave just as Ronnie discovered the locket in her wine glass. Ronnie then chased after Danielle accepting her and just as Danielle was running towards her, she was hit by a car. She then lay in Ronnie's arms as Ronnie sobbed and told her she loved her just as her aunt, Roxy (Rita Simons), appeared and she died in her mother's arms with all her new-found family around her.
Peggy was disgusted with Archie and kicked him out, Ronnie hatred was confirmed and grew while Roxy threw his stuff into the road and told him to never come back, but Janine took him in. Peggy was upset to discover Archie was still in Walford and ordered her son, Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden), to kill him. Archie was bundled into the back of a van on 10 April and tied and gagged in The Arches. Phil scared Archie who then left Walford, but when Peggy found this out she kicked Phil out of The Vic. Meanwhile, Stacey began acting strangely towards everyone and it was revealed that the death of Danielle was one of the events that triggered her bipolar disorder.
The "Secret Mitchell" storyline was conceived in 2007, when story producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins first developed the idea of two new Mitchell sisters, Ronnie and Roxy (Rita Simons). Ronnie was intended to come across as the more detached and icy sister and a hidden secret was first alluded to eight months after their introduction, when Roxy made a veiled reference to Ronnie's child and a physical fight ensued. Several months later, off-set episodes shot in Weymouth and dubbed "Mitchell Week" were aired, during which the audience were introduced to Ronnie and Roxy's father Archie (Larry Lamb), and learned that Ronnie had given a child up for adoption. Treadwell-Collins explained that it was necessary to introduce Danielle shortly after this revelation, but in such a manner that she would arrive "under the audience's radar", to preserve the later revelation of her identity as Ronnie's daughter. The role of Danielle was given to the then-unknown actress Lauren Crace, who commented: "I’m thrilled. It’s a great first role and I just can’t wait to see what is in store." Crace accepted the role whilst still in her third year at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Crace's casting was announced on 19 July 2008, when Danielle was described as the future love interest of fellow newcomer Callum Monks. Nineteen-year-old Danielle was described as a "naive blonde [...] easily taken in by Callum's smooth patter", arriving in Walford with "just a suitcase and a dream of a new life". The show's producers attempted to deliberately deceive the audience into believing Danielle was nothing more than Callum's love interest, and a new friend for Stacey Slater. Crace herself was only told of Danielle's true identity after her successful audition, though as she only signed a six month contract with the show, was always aware Danielle would only have a short arc. She has stated that some audience members guessed Danielle to be Ronnie's daughter almost as soon as she arrived, and that she found maintaining the secret to be difficult.
The revelation that Danielle was Ronnie's long-lost daughter was made to the audience when, after rowing with Ronnie, Danielle opened the locket she wore to reveal a photograph of her birth mother inside. Crace commented at the time that: "Being part of such a big storyline is exciting and challenging for any actress." Explaining the back-story from Danielle's point of view, she detailed: "When Danielle's adoptive mother died, she thought it was time to find out who her real mother was. She always knew she was adopted. She also had a locket with a picture of Ronnie in it that was given to her when she was put up for adoption. She went to the adoption agency and found out that Ronnie had also been looking for her - the agency then gave her details of her mother’s whereabouts." Questioned on whether she thought Danielle hoped to have a relationship with Ronnie, she responded: "Deep down, absolutely... she’s completely intrigued by Ronnie and the Mitchell clan, but at the same time very nervous of them. In her head she thinks they are too different and Ronnie would be disappointed to know she was her daughter". Series writer Simon Ashdown explained of why Danielle kept her identity secret: "The idea about Danielle was that she was hurt and broken by her life and being rejected by this mother that the thing she fears worst of all is being rejected again. So she holds off, she wants to get to know Ronnie, and charm her and make her like her and then tell Ronnie who she is."
The relationship between the two began to develop when Danielle fell pregnant, and was supported in seeking an abortion by Ronnie. Treadwell-Collins has explained that Danielle's pregnancy was a plot-device to bring the two closer together, discussing the tragedy of Ronnie being unaware she was encouraging the aborting of her own grandchild. Of Danielle's emotions during this period, Crace illuminated: "Having Ronnie show her some affection and willingly offering to come with her and to help her and give her advice, it was a huge thing for Danielle, because from always being knocked back by Ronnie, from always being knocked back by everybody, suddenly someone out of the blue offered to help her, and it was the one person in the world that she wants to be there." When Ronnie failed to attend Danielle's second clinic appointment, Danielle was, in Crace's opinion, "hurt and distraught", describing the development as "a step back for Danielle" whereby "she probably feels less willing than ever to tell Ronnie the truth than before". On Ronnie's part, Janus assessed that "Ronnie knows she wants to help this young girl but she's not sure why they have this bond". She explained: "Ronnie knows that Danielle is very vulnerable and is in Walford with no family and only a few friends. As Ronnie gave her a job in R&R maybe she thinks that Danielle interpreted that that as more than it was." Asked if Ronnie had noticed the resemblance between herself and Danielle, Janus responded: "She has never thought about any resemblance - why would she? As far as Ronnie is aware her baby passed away so the thought would never have crossed her mind." Following Ronnie's failure to attend her second appointment, the character briefly departed from the series, said to have returned to her native Telford.
Danielle returned from Telford "on the edge emotionally", and increasingly angry with Ronnie, believing that she deserved to belong to the Mitchell family. The writers had Archie Mitchell discover her secret as "a test of character", posing the question: "would he be despicable and sick enough not to tell Ronnie?" He is capable of anything to maintain control over the family including manipulation. Lamb commented that his character felt Danielle posed "a huge threat" to his family, explaining why he lied that Ronnie was suffering from depression and Danielle ought not tell her. Crace commented that her character "thinks that’s why [Ronnie] is always so hot and cold with her […] she takes it upon herself to try to look after Ronnie and help her to get well again." She offered the insight that although Danielle sees Archie as “a domineering figure”, she initially trusts him and believes he will reunite her with her mother when the time is right. However, as time passes, "she starts to see Archie’s true colours and is scared by this different side to him." Asked how Danielle feels about being accepted into the Mitchell family, Crace explained: "When she first came to Albert Square, Danielle didn’t really know what to expect. For one thing, she never thought her mum would be so young and attractive and own a night club. That’s pretty cool! But she is so pleased that Ronnie is her mother and can’t wait for her secret to be revealed at last." On Danielle's developing relationship with Ronnie at the time, Crace expanded: "Those two have such a turbulent relationship - one minute Ronnie's really nice to Danielle, the next she's ignoring her and calling her a freak. But at the end of the day, Ronnie's her mum, and deep down, that's all Danielle has ever wanted."
The ultimate revelation of Danielle's true identity was set at Archie's wedding to Peggy (Barbara Windsor), matriarch of the Mitchell family. Crace deemed the wedding "the perfect opportunity" for the storyline to conclude, while Santer explained: "Weddings are great because the bring the community together. A wedding gives you a stage, it gives you an event, the context to play things out, so it felt right that these big Mitchell stories would collide at Peggy's wedding." Writer James Payne concurred: "There's no point making the reveal of the Mitchell secret in the caff at half past nine in the morning over a bacon sandwich, it's not EastEnders. EastEnders at its best will make that moment as dramatic and sensational as it possibly can be." The episode saw Danielle announce that she was Ronnie's daughter in front of the entire wedding reception party, in what Crace has named her favourite scene on the show. She opined that the disbelief Danielle was faced with was "heartbreaking" and served to highlight the fact that "she came as the outsider and she still is the outsider because no one steps in to help her".
The character was killed off on 2 April 2009, run down by local resident Janine Butcher (Charlie Brooks) minutes after revealing her true identity to Ronnie, and subsequently dying in her mother's arms. Although different outcomes to the storyline were considered, Santer explained that "we always came back to [Danielle dying] because in the end, Ronnie is our tragic heroine character". Treadwell-Collins opined that "to give Ronnie her daughter at the last minute and then take her away suddenly is horrible, and the viewers could hate us for it. But if you have Ronnie have her daughter, this one thing that is key to her character, you weaken her character as you go along." Santer agreed that while having Ronnie and Danielle spend time together as mother and daughter would be touching, ultimately it would become boring. The scene in which Danielle dies was filmed during winter, but as it was set in early April, snow had to be cleared away from the set before filming could commence. A body double was used for the moment Danielle was run over. Crace deemed her final scenes: "Really tough, but great", expanding: "For so long you have so many scenes where you're just getting coffees in the caff or standing around in the back of Vic scenes, and then suddenly when you leave you get written for and you've got all these amazing scenes, and I had such great scenes with Larry and with Sam. And those last few scenes in the Vic with myself and Sam were so, so tough, it was such a hard day and I went home feeling like hell, but it was worth it." Although sad to leave, she felt that the story's conclusion was the right one, and was glad that Ronnie and Danielle finally shared a brief moment in the end, explaining: "It was so important that that tender moment was finally found, because that's all people wanted. It's all Danielle wanted, and it's all Ronnie wants." Crace concluded: "I think Danielle will leave quite a big mark on the Square and on the people in the Square - probably a bigger mark than she did when she was alive.
News of Danielle's death was subject to a media embargo, although several newspapers and magazines including the Radio Times leaked news of Crace's exit in advance of the event. Digital Spy's Kris Green reports that most of the online EastEnders community had anticipated the character's exit from the soap beforehand, some as early as January 2009. Danielle's death received a mixed reaction from the EastEnders fanbase, with 90% of viewers polled by The Sun opining that killing Danielle off was a mistake, however the decision was defended by Santer, who stated:
Last night's EastEnders contained all the elements of a classic soap episode – a wedding, high drama and tragedy. We acknowledge that we didn't deliver the happy ending that many of the audience may have been hoping for, and that for some people this was upsetting. We hope viewers understand that our aim is to deliver the best drama. That doesn't always lead to a happy ending. EastEnders - like all good drama - contains a balance of storylines, both happy and sad. We’re proud of the episode, the storyline which built up to it and the way the audience have engaged with it.
Throughout the storyline the ratings were around seven or eight million; rising to over 9 million for the episode in October 2008 revealing that Danielle was Ronnie's daughter.
The climax episode on 2 April 2009 drew in an average figure of 11.5 million viewers; peaking to 13.1 million viewers, causing a power surge. The power grid usually sees a surge of 500 MW at the end of an average episode of EastEnders—at 20:30 the grid saw a surge of 1,270 MW.
A special episode entitled "EastEnders Revealed: The Secret Mitchell" was broadcast on 3 April 2009 giving the background of this story.
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