|Portrayed by||Jake Wood|
|First appearance||Episode 3176
27 June 2006
|Introduced by||Kate Harwood|
|EastEnders: Last Tango in Walford (2010)|
|Occupation||Used car salesman
Maxwell "Max" Branning is a fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders, played by Jake Wood. He made his first appearance on 27 June 2006. Much of Max's storylines have focused on his multiple relationships, which includes two marriages to Tanya Cross (Jo Joyner) and Kirsty Branning (Kierston Wareing) and relationships with Gemma Clewes (Natalie J. Robb), Stacey Slater (Lacey Turner), Vanessa Gold (Zöe Lucker), Lucy Beale (Hetti Bywater), Emma Summerhayes (Anna Acton) and Karin Smart (Denise van Outen).
Max has also embarked on feuds with Jack Branning (Scott Maslen), Derek Branning (Jamie Foreman), Sean Slater (Robert Kazinsky), Harry Gold (Linal Haft), Janine Butcher (Charlie Brooks), Carl White (Daniel Coonan), Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden) and Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt). In 2008 Max became central to a whodunit storyline that saw him run over by a mystery assailant who was eventually revealed to be his daughter Lauren Branning. He has also had to come to terms with the death of his son Bradley Branning (Charlie Clements), been framed for attempted murder by Carl White (Daniel Coonan), a relationship with Lucy Beale (Hetti Bywater) and conning Ben Mitchell (Harry Reid) into signing over the Arches.
In May 2015, Wood announced that he would be taking a year-long break from EastEnders. Max departed on 1 October 2015 after being wrongly convicted of Lucy's murder. Wood returned to filming full-time in September 2016 but made an unannounced appearance on 9 June 2016 after being released from prison. Max's full return is expected to air in late 2016.
Max arrives in Walford to confront his father, Jim Branning (John Bardon), after being estranged for 17 years, but Jim throws him out and Max meets his son Bradley Branning (Charlie Clements), and decides to stay to rebuild their relationship. Max's wife Tanya Branning (Jo Joyner) arrives to collect him and a month later, Max, Tanya and their daughters Lauren Branning (Madeline Duggan until June 2010, Jacqueline Jossa thereafter) and Abi Branning (Lorna Fitzgerald) move to Albert Square. Tanya learns about Max's affair with Gemma Clewes (Natalie J. Robb), but she gives their marriage one last try. As an apology, Max buys 10 Turpin Road for Tanya to open as a beauty parlour and begins spending time with Bradley.
Max thinks Bradley is too good for his girlfriend, Stacey Slater (Lacey Turner), and when she gets pregnant, he gives Bradley money for an abortion, telling him a baby will ruin his life. However, the abortion ends the relationship. To hurt Bradley, Stacey makes a move on Max and they have an affair, but Tanya tells Max she is pregnant. He tries to save his marriage despite promising Stacey that he will leave Tanya but when Stacey learns of Tanya's pregnancy, Max takes his family to Spain and a few weeks later, tells Bradley they are moving there permanently. Max returns with his family to find that Stacey and Bradley have reconciled and are now engaged. On the night of Bradley and Stacey's wedding, Max kisses Stacey and although she rejects him, Lauren captures the kiss on video. Soon after, Tanya and Max's son, Oscar Branning, is born. Max and Stacey's affair is revealed at Christmas after Lauren makes a copy of the recording and gives it to Bradley. Both couples separate and Tanya files for divorce, but Max interferes with Tanya's romance with Sean Slater (Rob Kazinsky) and threatens to expose her as an unfit mother. With Sean's help, Tanya drugs Max and puts him in a coffin before burying him alive in the woods, knowing that a similar thing happened to him when he was 13 years old. An attack of conscience prompts Tanya to dig Max up and he decides to leave Walford as he can see how much devastation he had caused.
Max returns, and discovers Tanya is now dating his younger brother Jack Branning (Scott Maslen). Max tries to separate them by attempting to buy the house, seducing Jack's ex-girlfriend Ronnie Mitchell (Samantha Womack), and planning to frame Jack for a crime he did not commit. Jack abducts Max and beats him up, after which Max and Tanya kiss. Later that evening, he is the victim of a hit-and-run which Tanya confesses to and is arrested. However, Lauren admits that she was driving the car and turns herself in to the police. Tanya is released and Lauren goes into care. She is found not guilty of attempted murder but guilty of grievous bodily harm and decides to go home. Max and Tanya start a secret relationship and Tanya later allows Max to move back in. Max gets into debt and starts conning people with false insurance claims, including Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden), Heather Trott (Cheryl Fergison), Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt) and Masood Ahmed (Nitin Ganatra). However, he is found out and debt collectors arrive and take his assets. Once the extent of Max's debts, lies and cons become clear, Tanya leaves with Lauren and Oscar but Abi stays. Max sinks into depression and sends Abi to live with her mother. Max and Bradley decide to go into business together and Roxy Mitchell (Rita Simons) rents the car lot to them. After Archie Mitchell's (Larry Lamb) murder, Max discovers that Bradley punched Archie because he raped Stacey, thinking that he is also the father of her baby. When the police come for Bradley, Max helps him and Stacey flee but the police chase him to a rooftop where he stumbles and falls to his death. As Max and Stacey cry, she admits that she killed Archie. Stacey goes missing but Max finds her, and after an emotional confrontation, he takes her home and they agree not to tell anyone about Archie's murder.
Max meets Vanessa Gold (Zöe Lucker) after she buys a car from him. They start a casual relationship but she realizes Max still loves Tanya and ends the affair. When Max discovers that he and Tanya are divorced, he storms in to her house and tells her he still loves her. However, Tanya says she has moved on and reveals she and her new boyfriend Greg Jessop (Stefan Booth) are engaged, and will be married in a few months. Max attempts to reconcile with Vanessa, but she informs him that their relationship will never be serious. However, when Vanessa's husband, Harry (Linal Haft) finds out about the affair, he throws her out and she moves in with Max. Vanessa's daughter, Jodie (Kylie Babbington), also moves in with Lauren and Abi. Harry takes revenge by throwing a brick through their window, destroying Vanessa's clothes and killing Jodie's cat. Max and Jack threaten Harry, thinking it is over but Jack is kidnapped by orders from Harry, and Max finds him the next day in the boot of his car. Lauren concludes that Max killed Archie, because he has been displaying violent behaviour, but Max tells her that he made a promise to the killer to protect them. After Stacey tells Lauren that Max is looking after her, Lauren tells Max that she has worked out that Stacey is the killer. Lauren gets a confession from Stacey, Lauren informs Janine Malloy (Charlie Brooks) that Stacey killed Archie, and Janine publicly announces that Stacey is a killer, so Max helps her to escape. He drives her to the airport and says he does still love her but she says she only loves Bradley and then leaves the country. Max proposes to Vanessa, and she accepts. They announce their engagement to everyone, but Tanya confronts Max and tells him that she knows that he only proposed to Vanessa to make her jealous. Max and Tanya argue before sleeping together, and they begin an affair, but Lauren discovers this so Tanya decides to end it. However, it continues, despite Tanya marrying Greg. When the affair is revealed after he leaves Vanessa, Max goes to Tanya in hope he will be with her. Unknown to him, she has found out she may have cancer and tells him she does not love him. Kicked out by his children, Max decides to leave. Meanwhile, Tanya chases after Max but is too late, and watches as a tearful Max leaves Walford in his car.
Jack later reveals that Max is staying with their brother Derek Branning (Jamie Foreman), and he wants to bring Max back as Tanya's family is falling apart. Max visits Tanya but ends up insulting her and she throws him out. As Max is about to leave, Lauren stops him, telling him that Tanya has cancer and they need his help. Max talks to Tanya, and she explains her fears about her condition and reveals that she helped her sick father to die. Max then vows to support Tanya and stays with her along with Derek, although Tanya later throws Derek out. The family manage to enjoy Christmas together as they realise it might be Tanya's last one. When Tanya overhears Derek taunting a dying Pat Evans (Pam St. Clement), she furiously brands him a "freak" and Derek is livid when Max sides with her. Max is unnerved, however, when Derek hints that he knows things about Max that he does not want Tanya to know. Max becomes sexually frustrated as Tanya is never in the mood for sex, and almost starts an affair with Roxy Mitchell (Rita Simons) after she reveals her breasts to him. They almost kiss in an alleyway but are interrupted when a shout comes for Roxy. The next day, they text and call each other. Tanya then lies to Max that her nurse has recommended she does not have any sex. They are later shocked to discover Lauren has drunk so much she was passed out in the street. Lauren claims her drink was spiked, then says she is old enough to do what she likes after she is grounded. She then decides to move out. Max later has a change of heart and texts Roxy, telling her that nothing will ever happen between them. Max is relieved when Tanya is given the all-clear from cancer. Tanya is unconvinced however, and remains distant. Tanya's mother, Cora Cross (Ann Mitchell) suspects Max of having an affair with Roxy. Max gets Roxy to admit to Cora that she attempted to seduce him, but that he refused her. However, after a frank discussion with Tanya over their marriage and above all sex life Max reassures Tanya that she is all that matters to him and that he will not be straying again.
When Tanya discovers that cars at the car lot are being repossessed, she and Max argue, which leads to passion and they have sex for the first time since Tanya's all-clear from cancer. Derek continues to allude to something Max did when he was staying with him. On Oscar's first day at school, Max claims he cannot attend as he is stuck in traffic, but he is instead seen posting an envelope full of money through somebody's letterbox. Max and Tanya plan to remarry, and Derek continues to remind Max that "they" want more money. Max gives Derek cash, but does not know that Derek does not pass it on. The day before the wedding, a drunken Lauren angrily tears up Tanya's wedding dress and destroys the cake, then reveals that she was drunk driving when she crashed Derek's car and her cousin Joey Branning (David Witts) took the blame, manipulated by Derek. She also reveals that she has been having a relationship with Joey. Max and Tanya cancel the wedding, and Max tells Derek that he wants nothing more to do with him after Christmas. Derek takes revenge by contacting the person involved in Max's secret, giving them Max's address. Max surprises Tanya with another wedding dress on Christmas Day, saying they can marry, but a woman claiming to be Max's wife, Kirsty Branning (Kierston Wareing), arrives. Max confirms to an angry Tanya that he did marry Kirsty but Derek had told him they were divorced. Kirsty reveals that she was pregnant by Max, but after Max left her to reunite with Tanya, Derek said that Max did not want the child, so she had an abortion. Max did not know about the pregnancy. Max confronts Derek and threatens to kill him for his lies and manipulation and Derek reveals that he always hated Max. Derek is forced out by Max, Jack and Joey and outside, he suffers a heart attack and dies. Despite rifts between him and Tanya following Kirsty's reveal, they depart on holiday a few days later.
On their return, things are relatively healed between them. However, Max passionately embraces Kirsty after a heated argument. He then believes she has left Walford until she arrives at Derek's funeral. When Lauren befriends Kirsty, Kirsty gives Lauren a set of keys, which Max finds in her pocket. Tanya later discovers them and assumes that Max and Kirsty are still involved. However, Kirsty eventually agrees to sign the divorce papers and gives them to Max. Max shows Tanya and says Kirsty is leaving, but she realises Max still loves Kirsty believed because he refuses to have sex with her and is sad about Kirsty leaving. Max confirms this, so Tanya ejects Max from the house saying their relationship is over for good, as Kirsty leaves Walford. When Kirsty posts her wedding ring to Max, he tracks her down and finds her being abused by her ex-boyfriend's brother, who beats Max up. Max and Kirsty return to Walford and live together at the B&B. Kirsty lies to Max that she is pregnant in an attempt to stop him returning to Tanya. Max encourages Kirsty to abort the pregnancy, but following another refusal by Tanya to rekindle their relationship, he changes his mind and moves into a new flat with Kirsty. Max and Kirsty's relationship comes under pressure due to the meddling of her ex-fiancé, Carl White (Daniel Coonan). Max later finds out about Kirsty's fake pregnancy after finding a pregnancy test on the floor that she threw in the bin. He ends the relationship with Kirsty and tries to convince Tanya to reunite, but she leaves Walford for the sake of Lauren, who is an alcoholic.
Struggling with losing Tanya, Max rebukes Kirsty's pleas for a reconciliation and struggles to look after Abi. Eventually, with Abi's blessing, they reunite, and Kirsty moves into their house. Lauren returns, having left her rehabilitation clinic early, worrying Max. Max's feud with Carl continues, and, determined to get rid of Max so he can win back Kirsty, he purposefully cuts the brakes on his car, and crashes it, leaving passenger Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden) in a critical condition. He frames Max for cutting the brakes, and forces Ian to become a false witness. Max is arrested and released on bail, until Carl goads him into attacking him, and he is remanded in custody. He then ends his relationship with Kirsty under Carl's instructions, who has threatened to harm Lauren. Carl also forces Max to tell his family he is guilty, and Lauren is the only person who believes he is innocent. On the day of Max's trial, Ian fails to turn up, and Max is released without charge, to Carl's fury. Max then heads to a wasteland with Phil, and it is revealed they have kidnapped Ian. They use Ian as bait to trap Carl, and then let him go, and Phil offers Max the chance to kill Carl. Max declines and returns to his family instead, resuming his relationship with Kirsty. however, Carl soon tells Max that he had sex with Kirsty while he was in prison, leading to Max ending his relationship with her. Several months later, Kirsty leaves Walford for good.
Max is stunned when Stacey's cousin Kat Moon (Jessie Wallace) spots Stacey from a bus in London. He helps track Stacey down, but decides he cannot be involved when he realises he may still have feelings for Stacey. Stacey later turns to Max for help, but they end up in a passionate kiss, and Stacey later leaves Walford with Lily to stay with her mother Jean. Max later starts a sexual relationship with his daughter Lauren's best friend, Lucy Beale (Hetti Bywater), which they manage to keep a secret for several weeks. Somebody eventually finds out about Max and Lucy's affair, and e-mails him an image of the pair kissing. Max confronts Lucy, believing it is her trying to blackmail him, but it is revealed it is not. Eventually, Lucy ends her affair with Max due to her new relationship with Lee Carter (Danny-Boy Hatchard), which infuriates Max. A physical struggle ensues, which ends when Lucy falls over and hits her head on a chair. Max and Lucy have an explosive argument outside of the car lot, which sees Max grab Lucy violently by her arm. Later that night, Lucy is murdered by an unknown assailant. Max becomes prime suspect after the police discover that Lucy was having an affair, and Max reveals all to David Wicks (Michael French). David initially tries to encourage Max to confess to the Beales and the police, but he refuses, and David threatens to tell the police everything. After Max's sister Carol Jackson (Lindsey Coulson) collapses and is rushed to hospital, David realises he must protect Max for her so gets rid of all of the evidence of Max and Lucy's fight.
Remembering the moving eulogy Max made at Bradley's funeral, Ian turns to him for advice over Lucy's impending funeral. Abi becomes irate when she sees Max supporting Ian and reveals that she knows that he was sleeping with Lucy and was the person that sent him the email of him and Lucy together. Abi's boyfriend Jay Brown (Jamie Borthwick) witnesses the confrontation between them and tells Phil, who in turn reveals the truth to a horrified Ian. At the funeral, Ian attacks Max when he sees him carrying Lucy's coffin and later Phil and Alfie Moon (Shane Richie) visit him and tell him that he is no longer welcome in any of Ian or Phil's businesses or The Queen Vic. Max then begins a sexual relationship with DC Emma Summerhayes (Anna Acton), the detective who is investigating Lucy's murder. Emma ends things when Max's rival, Dot's grandson Charlie Cotton (Declan Bennett) discovers their relationship and threatens to report it. When Stacey is released after an appeal, Max employs her at the car lot, but she decides to leave when he admits he still has feelings for her and it was those feelings that drove him to have the affair with Lucy. Stacey then encourages him to get back in touch with Emma, and she and Max resume their relationship. He impresses Emma's parents when they visit but when Emma wants to end their relationship because of the pressures of the case, Max makes an anonymous call to the police which starts an investigation into Emma's misconduct. Max is angry when Emma gives Lauren's laptop to the police, and as a result, Abi's behaviour regarding Max and Lucy is revealed to both the police and Lauren. After Emma is hit by a car in the Square, Max takes her to hospital where she dies from a bleed to the brain. Max finds Emma's case notes in his kitchen cupboard and rips them up in front of Carol, and then turns to alcohol to deal with his grief. Thinking Phil was responsible for the crash, he takes revenge by tricking his son Ben (Harry Reid) into signing over The Arches to him. When Max discovers Phil has been framed, he refuses to sign the business back to Phil despite Ben later telling him that Nick Cotton (John Altman) was responsible for the crash. After he is banned from Emma's funeral, Max visits Phil in prison to tell him he has taken over ownership of The Arches. Phil swears revenge on Max, and after being released, Phil regains the garage and also takes the car lot from Max.
Max struggles with the loss of his business, and stops taking care of himself or paying his bills. Carol discovers this and invites Max to move in with her and rent out his house to pay the mortgage. Desperate for work, Max takes a job at Ian's fish and chip shop. When Ben is arrested for Lucy's murder, Phil manipulates Abi into coming forward about Max's fake alibi to the police. Max is arrested and when Lucy's blood is found on his shoe, from where Jake Stone caused Lucy's nose to bleed on the night she died, he is charged with the murder. He later tells Stacey he knows Abi killed Lucy, and hires Marcus Christie (Stephen Churchett) as his solicitor. Despite Jane Beale (Laurie Brett) giving him a false alibi, he is found guilty thanks to Phil paying off the jury foreman. Upon hearing the verdict, Max escapes from court and manages to confront Jane in the hope of uncovering the truth. Jane simply says she believes Max is innocent and decides to help him escape to Ireland. Max wants to say a final goodbye to Lauren and Abi, so Jane goes to Carol's to find them. Carol realises Max is at Jane's so goes there and decides to go to Ireland with him. When Abi finds out Max is at Jane's, she calls the police. Max soon realises that Jane is covering for her son Bobby (Eliot Carrington) and that Lauren knew, so he disowns Lauren. Max is then arrested while shouting that Bobby killed Lucy, though it is dismissed as an act of desperation. He is sentenced to twenty years in prison, with an extra year for his escape.
In May 2016, the truth about Bobby emerges. When he is charged with Lucy's murder, Lauren and Abi attempt to visit Max in prison, but they find out that he has refused to see either of them. Max has a court hearing for his release, which Abi is reluctant to attend so Lauren writes Max a letter for Stacey to pass on, but Stacey misses Max at the court and hands it to his solicitor. Lauren and Abi wait for Max in The Queen Vic but he does not arrive, and when Lauren goes home, Max posts the letter back through the letterbox and quickly leaves in a taxi with Lauren failing to stop him. A week later, Max sends a threatening note to Ian saying he will never forget what he did.
Creation and development
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Jake Wood was cast in the role of Max in January 2006. At the time, little was known of the character, who was to move in with Jim (John Bardon) and Dot Branning (June Brown). Wood commented: "I'm a great admirer of both John Bardon and June Brown and I'm looking forward to joining the Branning family." In March 2008, Max was temporarily written out of the show when Wood went on paternity leave. Wood said of this "It comes at a good time because Max is getting grief over his affair so he will disappear for a while." He returned three months later, in June. In May 2009, Wood signed a new two-year contract with the show after which he took a temporary four-month break from the show in August 2011, which Wood said was down to the fact that after five years of playing Max, he was tired and "needed a break". Wood returned to filming after signing another two-year contract, and Max returned with his older brother Derek Branning (Jamie Foreman) in November.
Wood has described Max as "damaged", with a troubled upbringing, and uses this backstory to justify Max's actions in the series, saying that Max is motivated to be a better father to his children than his own father was to him, and that Max has done nothing that would be out of character.
In May 2009, Wood said he hoped his character would get back with his wife, Tanya (Jo Joyner), saying: "He believes Tanya still loves him. I think she does too." Later in 2009 Max gets into debt and tries to con various Walford residents. On conning single mother Heather Trott (Cheryl Fergison), Wood said "Max has got a conscience but he's thinking about his own survival. He wants to keep his family at all costs." On hiding Max's debt problems from Tanya, Wood commented: "Max thinks he can wriggle out of situations and admitting to debt would be a blow to his manhood. But Tanya would have understood and he'd have kept his family. [...] The problem between Max and Tanya has always been honesty. If Tanya finds out she may never trust Max again." When Tanya discovers Max's lies, she leaves him. This storyline facilitated Joyner's temporary departure on maternity leave. The show's executive producer Diederick Santer commented: "Yet again, Max has messed up, hasn't he? He's learned to keep it in his trousers, but financially, he's corrupt. He's taken his eye off the ball business-wise and like a lot of people in the last year or two, he's found it tough going. His inability to show weakness or to share his problems with Tanya has been his downfall. He has to rebuild his life now and his long-term objective is to get Tanya back. Jo Joyner is of course returning to the Square but whether Max gets Tanya back is another thing. I don't know if he's good enough for her." Santer also revealed that some planned storyline material for Max and Tanya was put on hold until Tanya's return from maternity leave.
In March 2010, a new love interest for Max was announced, Vanessa Gold, played by Zöe Lucker. A spokesperson for the show said that "[Max and Vanessa] are both volatile and explosive characters and their meeting will be like putting a lit match next to a barrel [of] gunpowder." Wood said that Max is weak when it comes to women, although his desire is to have his wife and children back, adding that "He always makes mistakes, he's easily led and the grass is always greener. He's his own worst enemy."
In March 2011, it was revealed that Max and Abi would suffer severe injuries after their car crashes into a lorry on the way to Tanya's wedding to Greg Jessop (Stefan Booth), prompting Tanya to flee the wedding to help him. The crash scenes were filmed on 6 March 2011.
Temporary exit (2015)
On 28 May 2015, it was announced that Wood had decided to take a year-long hiatus from EastEnders. Of this decision, Wood said, "I have been at EastEnders for nine years and I feel the time is right to give Max a break—but it won't be for too long as I shall be back next year to see Max face another chapter of drama." Executive producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins added: "When I returned to EastEnders, both Jake and I agreed that Max has been through so much over the past nine years that we would give him and Jake a break when the opportunity arose. That opportunity has come and it is the perfect time to send Max Branning out with a bang that will send ripples through the Square for the rest of the year until Jake returns."
The storyline which saw Tanya bury Max alive prompted 167 viewer complaints, citing the inappropriate nature of the scenes, which aired prior to the 9.00 pm watershed. The BBC responded with the statement: "Whilst we appreciate that these episodes were dramatic, they were carefully filmed and edited in order that Max's ordeal was in the main implicit, rather than explicit, whilst still retaining their powerfulness. It's also important to note that Max made it out alive after Tanya realised she couldn't go through with her plan to leave him for dead. The burial is in no way glamorised or glorified, rather we see that when pushed to the edge, Tanya's behaviour becomes out of character, and indeed that it's Tanya herself who ultimately suffers because of her actions. Once again we are sorry that you did not enjoy these episodes." The UK communications regulator Ofcom later found that the episodes depicting the storyline were in breach of the 2005 Broadcasting Code. They contravened the rules regarding protection of children by appropriate scheduling, appropriate depiction of violence before the 9pm watershed and appropriate depiction of potentially offensive content.
Wood has received a number of award nominations for his portrayal of Max. In 2007, he was nominated for Best Newcomer at the TV Quick and TV Choice Awards, and Best Soap Actor the following year and in 2010. In 2008 and 2009, he was nominated for Best Actor at the Inside Soap Awards, Also in 2009 he was nominated for Best Actor at The British Soap Awards. In 2010, he was nominated in the Outstanding Serial Drama Performance category at the National Television Awards, but was not shortlisted, and in February 2011, Wood was nominated for Best Actor in the Soap Bubble Awards for his portrayal of Max. In 2012, Wood and Joyner won the Best On-Screen Partnership category at the British Soap Awards. On Digital Spy's 2012 end of year reader poll, Wood was nominated for "Best Male Soap Actor" and came third with 15.2% of the vote.
- Director: Michael Owen Morris; Executive Producer: Lorraine Newman; Writer: Christopher Reason (14 December 2012). "Episode dated 14/12/2012". EastEnders. 22:31 minutes in. BBC.
Derek Branning: Maxwell, I'm doing my best to stop our friends turning you into peanut butter.
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