fri 12/04/2024

Mary and Martha, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Mary and Martha, BBC One

Mary and Martha, BBC One

Richard Curtis turns from fact to fiction to raise awareness about malaria

Brenda Blethyn and Hilary Swank in 'Mary and Martha'

It is now part of the fixtures and fittings on British television. Its original stars, once alternative comedians, have become leathery gerontosaurs of the establishment. And yet on Comic Relief the grammar of giving has been largely immune to evolution. A star – usually a comic - goes out to Africa and reports back from a community in dire need of a basic necessity to alleviate suffering and death. They mug charmingly for the camera, make friends with the children and ask for your money.

It’s a trusted method, but this year Richard Curtis has tried to shake things up a little. Rather than appeal to the audience’s finer feelings through a combination of laughter and facts, Mary and Martha is a work of fiction, and it’s notably light on comic relief. But the real game-changer is that Curtis here tugged on the heart strings by putting his First World characters in the line of fire. 

There were fleeting glimpses of the Curtis who more or less invented the awkward British romcom

The drama told of two mothers united in grief by the dread scythe of malaria, which kills half a million people a year. Wealthy American housewife Mary (Hilary Swank) took her schoolboy son George (Lux Haney-Jardane) out to South Africa for six months to get him away from bullies and computer games. Before long he had been killed by a bite from a mosquito. Although by a neat dramatic sleight of hand we didn't see it happen, the same fate awaited Ben (Sam Claflin), the son of homespun Londoner Martha (Brenda Blethyn), who went off to Mozambique to teach and foolishly handed over his malaria pills to his pupils. In due course the women chanced to meet and, visiting Ben’s old school, found malaria continuing to cut a swathe through his pupils. With not much of a marriage to go home to, Martha stayed on to help, while Mary returned to a large, echoing home fired by the need to intervene in the politics of overseas aid, despite the scepticism of her husband and yoga-mat friends.

Curtis has been this way before. In The Girl in the Café (2005) he came at Third World debt via a love affair between a civil servant and a campaigner. It’s a tricky ridge to traverse: can the film raise awareness and if possible donations while also offering a satisfying story? Even when not delivering a lecture in a dog collar, Curtis for all his undoubted humanity has never been the most layered dramatist. The tears shed by Swank and Blethyn, and the back stories lending their characters a basic sort of substrata, could not quite erase the whiff of the well-meaning infomercial. James Woods as Swank’s unloving, work-obsessed father was a creation of purest cardboard. There were only fleeting glimpses of the Curtis who more or less invented the awkward British romcom. Mary asked Martha why she married her lumpen husband. “Well,” said Blethyn, “he was very polite.”

Mary and Martha was very polite too, even at the moment when the two women fetched up lecturing a congressional committee on funding for disease prevention about the genocidal impact of malaria. Curtis has always expertly manipulated his audience’s emotions – egregiously so in Love, Actually. The oddity is, with director Philip Noyce also pulling the strings, that he managed it all over again. It’s a shrewd calculation: ashes to ashes, dust to dust, where facts won’t get them, fiction must.

The tears shed by Swank and Blethyn could not quite erase the whiff of the well-meaning infomercial


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Average: 3 (1 vote)

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We loved the program!! Was welling up pretty much the whole way through. The soundtrack was amazing and we would love to know the track names( especially the fast pace African tune)..can anyone help? Been looking but can't find anything:-/?

It's called The Highway Man' by Hoffmaestro. They are Swedish! I think it's the one your looking for because I was to.

one of the songs their driver plays in the car at the start when they have been picked from the airport is by Chasity Brown called 'after you'. has anyone pliz found some of the African songs there.

the song called "After You" is by Chastity Brown

It was brilliant!!! As a British mother who works and travels with her 5 year old son, the point of the programme, overall, made complete sense. And I also was welling up most of the time. This was a powerful awareness tool.... and yes please, bring out the sound track - it was fantastic.

Sorry, but I wasn't really that impressed. Fine though most of the performances were, I felt both the main characters spent most of the time feeling so sorry for themselves. It took 45 minutes before they even met, and we didn't get a decent bullet point until 10 minutes from the end. Perhaps instead of spending money making the film, they should have bought some mosquito nets instead.

I agree with you on the movie. Did like the scenery. The poor husband, father....

Such an amazing film, we loved it & the soundtrack. Found one of the songs called 'The Highway Man' by Hoffmaestro

Thank you so much for finding the name of this piece of music. I too have been searching for the soundtrack for Mary and Martha however it has mostly lead to dead ends as it is not listed in the credits. I hope to find the rest of the soundtrack too but this is a great start, thank you :)

Does anyone know if a book has been written about this brilliant

what is the song kalled that the lil girl girl sung at the lil boy funeral? such a beautiful song.

It's called Gabriel by Lamb. I haven't found the version with the little girl in the movie, but the Lamb song is sung by a woman and it's a similar tone. Beautiful.

Found it- Beatrice Miller is who sings the movie version of Gabriel

I loved the movie, excellent plot, photograph and characters. I want to know about the music, how can I get the music of this movie? Regards!

Does anyone know the name of the song or the artist that is playing while the credits are being shown at the end of the movie?

Chastity Brown - After You

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