That 'Carla Connor' Thing
On August 14, the writers of the beloved, long-running British soap opera Coronation Street, sent viewers reeling by reigniting the famously doomed couple Carla Connor and Peter Barlow. Like the real-life impassioned romance of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, the Connor-Barlow duo, played brilliantly by actors Alison King and Chris Gascoyne, have allowed booze, infidelity, competing careers, and the prying eyes of outsiders to prick sensitive areas of their union to blood loss. The couple initiated a romance with Peter already in a committed relationship to LeAnne Battersby and Carla juggling an affair with her business partner Frank Foster with a crush on Peter. The relationship would survive Carla’s rape, both of their drunken binges, Peter’s infidelity with their child minder, an imbittered custody battle for Peter’s son, Simon; and Carla’s miscarriage. When the marriage finally ended, in 2015, Carla and Peter were believed over and done for good; however, her return December 2017, immediately hinted to a continued spark between the two. A recent snogging session proved the chemistry remained top shelf, but is a rekindled romance in the works? As part of Acumen’s Love Euroclydon lecture series, we take a closer examination of Carla Connor and all the men she’s loved.
Walking into Frame
Carla Connor came into view initially as the demanding, high-maintenance wife of Paul Connor, the eldest sibling of a trio of Irish supplants to Weatherfield. It was in 2010, while on my 40th birthday excursion to London that the claws of Coronation Street character Carla Connor first sank into my system. Like only a few other television characters – especially on daily soap dramas, the character proved simultaneously alluring and tiring. Portrayed brilliantly by actress Alison King, Connor entered the frame as a tough-as-nails factory boss, who grafted her way out of humble beginnings. The character exudes a runabout charm that feigns slapstick but borders on cruelty. Pretty Mean Girls comes to mind, except, Connor is rarely ever mean. Like some juvenile delinquent, she drops zingers and jibes into serious conversations almost on impulse, but just as seamlessly champions the positions of the neighborhood underdogs (like Roy, a local café owner). Perhaps that is the “thing” that makes Carla Connor priceless – she confuses the hell out of viewers, forcing them to look at her, even when they don’t like her. For as powerful and liberating as Carla Connor appears, she is all the more vulnerable, insecure, and reckless. Connor is the Sue Ellen Ewing of a new generation, replete with fits of passion, a squadron of men enfeebled by her beauty and charm, and a textbook drinking problem that works as an Achilles heel to her arrogance.
There is a particular vulnerability when one analyzes Carla Connor more fully. In fact, the super snotty, glam-boss, when the layers are slowly peeled away, represents one of the best multi-dimensional soap characters ever. Born into the Donovan family on a London council estate – to an alcoholic mother, Sharon, a rebellious younger brother, Rob, and an abusive stepdad, George – Carla married into the Connor family and refused to look back. The Connors, comprised of Michelle, (Carla’s best friend), and Michelle’s two brothers Paul and Liam, served as social anchors to the abused, neglected, and oft-taunted Carla.
In 2012, Carla’s desire to distance herself from her family takes shape with the introduction of her younger brother, fresh from a prison stint. Carla stops short of welcoming Rob and refuses to offer him lodging or even the basic niceties afforded family. When she later hires Rob to work at Underworld, he is caught stealing silk fabric and attempting to flog it to her competition.
“It’s not my fault you were the smelly girl with one pair of shoes! It was Mom’s fault, Dad’s, the Bacardi, but it wasn’t me!” Rob shouts her down after she threatens to have him arrested. The comment is a stinging blow that reminds her that Rob knows who she is beneath the designer clothing and sophisticated posturing. She subsequently decides against his arrest.
In a heartbreaking 2014 scene Carla is mortified to find she is pregnant, paralyzed by the thought that she lacked a natural affinity for mothering. She confirms her pregnancy just as news arrives that her step-dad, George, has died of a sudden heart attack. With the harshness of her own childhood flooded back, the prospects of becoming a mother, are all the more sobering to Carla.
Initially her comments to Michelle, who has seen her through confirming the pregnancy, sound selfish and coy. “My marriage and my factory are the only things that are important to me; they’re the reason I get out of bed for every morning and what I climb into bed for every night. I can’t jeopardize that!” But under Michelle’s pressure, Carla admits tearfully, that her own mother was a disaster and she could not expect to be much more.
What viewers identify, if they look close enough, is a woman whose beauty, “is off the scales,” but who wrestles with the insecurities that come when that beauty (coupled with her tenacity) don’t cause the world around her to yield to her desires. Carla Connor is used to getting her way, period.
This is seen initially with husband Paul – when he spends the money set aside for her to begin her own children’s clothing line. The stomping and pouting give way to her moving into his offices, taking over his brother, Liam’s desk, and conning a handful of his factory employees into working for her after hours as overtime. Paul gives in only because he cannot face the continued sulking. Later, when she falls in love with the married Peter, she is unfazed by his resistance, and resorts to brazen trickery in several attempts at seducing him.
But unlike Paul, Liam, Trevor or Tony, the alcoholic bookie Peter Barlow would not give in – leading her straight to the bottle.
Elders often comment on the unsightliness of drunken women; however, Carla shines in drunkenness. (That reads oddly, but it is the case). Carla tosses one-liners, crashes her backside onto the cobblestones beneath her feet, and wallows in the catastrophe of not getting her way. Sobering usually requires her gaining a “moment of clarity,” and asking for help – whether from a sobriety group or Peter. Carla’s penchant for drink does eventually lead to the breakdown of Peter’s resolve and clears a pathway to his bed. They become each other’s support and literally anchor one another through a series of falls off the wagon.
And just when Carla believed her attempts to win Peter were nil, he falls off the wagon, and heads to her. There is no judgment as Peter stumbles into her furniture, dropping cigarette ash all over the place. When he asks about showering, she smiles and says, “Be my guest, and there’s a towel on the rack, you may want to brush your teeth.” It is in these moments, after nearly three years of cat-and-mouse flirtation, that Peter determines Carla is the woman for him.
But be clear, the drunken “old soak” Carla, proves less a master manipulator, than a gauge of the character’s emotional wherewithal. In fact, King shines as both the lush and the in-love – both of which serve as elixirs to Peter, who enjoys rescuing distressed women. Note: Peter was arrested for bigamy after two of his wives met and confronted him in 2003. The desire to be rescued, plays just as well for Carla. With each lover before and after Peter, Carla seemed happy being adored and coddled after. Scenes with Peter, though, document a fierce desire to cover herself with him – lassoed about his neck, fastened to his shoulders, leaned into or on top of him. It represented a chemistry beyond lust or even love. This posturing mimics that of a little girl to a father or favored brother or uncle. She is comfortable in and comforted by Peter’s presence, showing honest emotion, whether anger, tears or laughter. And at times, Carla is clearly annoyed by the intrusion of others – including Peter’s school-aged son Simon and her best friend Michelle – into her alone time with Peter. If we are honest, this is the way lovers truly love.
Despite the vitriol that the two become toxic as a couple, Corrie has them working the factory together. Given their passions for each other, history seems certain to repeat itself. Fans of the couple can only watch and wait.
Happy Watching! Check Acumen’s social media for the schedule of the 2018-19 Love Euroclydon series.