“I feel as sad as the sisters of Lazarus”
A number of the reviews of the first episode of Mum (here’s mine) were cautiously optimistic but commented that Stefan Golaszewski’s writing wasn’t really funny enough for a sitcom, or up to his previous TV show Him and Her. I hope that people persisted with it though, for it emerged as a simply beautiful piece of television, closer to a drama in the end than an outright comedy, and all the more affecting and effective for it.
In some ways, it’s not that surprising that it wasn’t a canned laughter kind of show – an actor of the stature of Lesley Manville, with her nearly 40 years of collaboration with Mike Leigh, wouldn’t do that, would she (I guess My Family being the exception here…). Instead, what we got was a subtle meditation on how life continues after bereavement, working through the stages of grief and minutiae of life over the course of that tricky first year. Plus Manville ate a large crisp in one go, now you don’t get that kind of quality just anywhere!
And I loved it, I absolutely adored it. Golaszewski’s genius has been to identify sitcom tropes and then refract them through his uniquely observational eye. So Lisa McGrillis’ daffy Kelly, Cathy’s son’s girlfriend, may seem dippy beyond belief on first sight but over the six episodes, developed into a comic creation of real depth and pathos, her nervy faux pas barely masking a shattered self-confidence, slowly being rebuilt through Cathy’s tender patience.
Likewise Dorothy Atkinson’s Pauline, the ghastly sister-in-law whose withering commentary was a weekly highlight, another woman shat on by life but acting out a different way and hugely, hugely watchable. The banter between Marlene Sidaway and Karl Johnson’s raucous badly-behaved ageing in-laws was also cracking, but the real joy of Mum was the slow-burn relationship between Cathy and Michael, the friend who has held a lifelong torch for her.
You could watch Manville and Peter Mullan in pretty much anything and know that they’d be good but here, they were just exceptional. As the stalwart shoulder to cry on and utterly in the friend-zone, his longing glances at her were achingly done and as the replacement confidant, her delight in being able to truly open her mind to someone was just joyous to behold – whether confessing her fears at re-entering the dating world, applying for jobs, worrying about her son, the relationship that they built up was just beautiful.
And its culmination in the final episode was one of the best things I’ve seen on TV this year, a moment of exquisite, agonising, altogether perfectly human interaction that left me weeping like a loon in all its wordless glory. Perfectly directed by Richard Laxton, it was the kind of scene that should win awards for all concerned and capped off something truly special. The news of a second series already having been commissioned is proof that there is a God sometimes.