fri 19/07/2024

Mum, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

Mum, BBC Two

Mum, BBC Two

Lesley Manville is surrounded by gargoyles in a gentle comedy about widowhood

The patience of a saint: Lesley Manville as Cathy in 'Mum'

The comedy of widowhood is the brave territory of Mum. Lesley Manville plays Cathy, whom we meet on the day she is burying her husband Dave – although not literally doing it herself, as has to be explained to the nice but dim new girlfriend of her stay-at-home son Jason (Sam Swainsbury).

As the mourners gather at her Chingford semi, each fresh arrival proves more grotesque than the last, and poor Cathy’s face becomes a little more pinched as her heroic reserves of tolerance run almost dry.

First there’s Kelly (Lisa McGrillis, pictured below) who arrives in a short red dress, needing to borrow a pair of knickers, talking about number ones and twos and the death of her dog. Then Cathy’s brother brings a new squeeze called Pauline (Dorothy Atkinson), whose eye-poppingly aggressive snobbery makes you want to chuck her in the boot of the hearse and screw down the lid. Finally the deceased’s parents arrive, deaf and crotchety and mainly interested in what they can scoff at the wake.

Standing aside from all this is Peter Mullan as Michael, her husband’s oldest chum and best man. He clearly carries a torch for Cathy so watch this space. Mullan watchers who’ve had it up to here with his slightly exhausting parade of brutes will be pleasantly surprised to see him doing shy and reserved.

Manville was of course born to play Cathy, another of her mothers carrying a heavy load. See also Ghosts (for which she won an Olivier), Mike Leigh’s play Grief, The Go-Between and the stage version of All About My Mother, in all of which something goes horribly wrong. Cathy’s a different mum altogether, superhumanly tolerant and slightly daffy (your reading glasses are on your head, Cathy). She cracks only once when she is provoked into correctly identifying Pauline as “a fucking twat”, alas not to Pauline’s face. Let us pray that pleasure awaits.

The tone is gentle, observational, the pace glacially lifelike. Stefan Golaszewski, who also writes plays, won a BAFTA for his previous television comedy Him & Her. Mum is more unassuming. The set-up asks the viewer to see the world through Cathy’s eyes. It’s a slightly frustrating perspective because Cathy, having the patience of a saint, is nicer and perhaps more passive than at least some of the rest of us. But stick with it, because Mum will certainly grow.

Kelly arrives in a short red dress, needing to borrow a pair of knickers


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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When a sitcom is described as 'gentle comedy' you can be sure of one thing - it ain't funny! in this respect 'Mum' lives up to its billing. Lesley Manville plays Cathy, a middle aged widow so lacking in backbone she allows a procession of poisonous friends and relatives into her home to insult her, humiliate her and demand unreasonable favours on the day of her husband's funeral. She reacts to all these slights with simpering smiles and pleasantries. Cathy really is a classic victim - wetter than a haddock in Speedos. I am a 47 year old woman and I don't know any women like her. Her only idiosyncracy is to constantly search for her glasses then discover, hardy har har, that they are on her head, a joke stretched thinner than Kate Middleton's ankles. The other female characters are her polar opposites, utter monsters who are breathtakingly stupid or spiteful or both. Women like these simply do not exist outside of the imagination of the 30-something male writer who created them. What was Lesley Manville thinking of? The paycheck, I suspect. If this is the best comedy on offer to middle aged actresses then all women should despair, because the joke's on us!

mmm. Yeah. Not so much.

i am not a 47 year old woman, I am a 50 year old man. But I also know fantastic writing, direction and acting (I happen to have a degree in it, but that's not relevant) when I see it.

have to say, this is one of the best observed most closely true to life 'dramedy's ' I have seen this or in very many years. 

I have been shouting its praises to everyone I have met for weeks. 

Sorry you didn't like it. Have you checked up on your soul recently? 

The truly pitiful thing is that people like you do exist.


Spot on review. I usually love Lesley Manville but found the first episode of Mum utterly tedious, clumsily written and unworthy of her subtle talent. The characterisation of the supporting cast was crass and obvious, peddling in particular the classic patronising BBC view that anyone with a Cockney accent is a gauche idiot. The blonde bimbo who talked like the Little Match Girl, for instance, who - hehe, bien sûr, mes amis - turns up to a funeral in a red mini-dress with no knickers underneath. Oooops, 'ow's yer farver? I totally agree that, like many of the depictions of women in their 40s on television - Sally Wainwright's brilliant protagonists in Happy Valley or Scott and Bailey and Mike Bartlett's in Doctor Foster being notable exceptions - Manville's character is dull and two-dimensional: a simpering doormat who lacks the autonomy, complexity, intelligence and attitude of real fortysomething women. Male writers often seem to struggle with creating believable female characters, and I certainly don’t think that a top-level female scriptwriter would ever have penned the female characters in the way Stefan Golaszewski has in this series. Am amused by the responses of blokes who regard disliking this show as a sign of moral deficiency. Er, no, actually: people dislike it because it's not perceptive, not socially aware, not emotionally true and not funny.

i love this series!!!! It shows a little slice of life , and definitely portrays the sacrifices , love and the know ,when to bite your tongue and be quiet(so not to hurt , or put any cold water on your children's,families dreams) the job of a mum !! She's exactly like me !! More please 

This is wonderful, crafted writing full of gorgeous moments. Agonising, sweet, cringeing, delightful, repugnant, comic, chaotic - and much more to boot. An absolute joy to watch, fabulous casting and easily the most engaging BBC sitcom in a long time. Only a true cynic with an axe to grind would pan this show. I was not a fan of Him and Her (by the same writer) but this a real gem. Open your heart and you will not be disappointed. Less is definitely more!

Love this!  The entire cast is supherb and Lesley Manville is outstanding holding the crazy troup together.  I was so moved watching the sixth episode with her and Peter Mullan sitting on the bench reaching out to each other yet feeling so alone.  Amazing acting and writing.  Don't want it to end.

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