Hilary Swank and Brenda Blethyn played Mary and Martha in the Richard Curtis drama/TV film shown on BBC1 on Friday night, which I believe will also be shown on HBO in the US. For Comic Relief, it was a harrowing drama about two mothers who lost their sons to malaria in Mozambique and then how they meet and come together to campaign.
Hilary Swank was Mary, an American designer, who decided to take her son George out of school for six months to go to South Africa to home school him and have an adventure (he had been bullied at school; she was worried that he spent too much time on video games). On a trip to Mozambique he’s bitten by a mosquito and it’s too late before Mary realises how ill he is and takes him to a hospital. Meanwhile, Martha (Blethyn)’s son, Ben, is a young adult who goes to Mozambique to work/volunteer at an orphanage school. He too dies of malaria, although we don’t see how or what happens on screen.
The two mothers meet in Mozambique by chance and bond over the misfortune. There’s more focus on Swank and her portrayal of a mother who has lost a son is heart-wrenching. You could understand if she shut herself off, which she does at first, and find it admirable that this fictional character, like so many real-life parents, are able to turn to campaigning and compassion in order to save other children from befalling to the same fate as their children. It is revealed that more people die of malaria every year – in fact more than double – than have died from terrorist attacks and American lives in war since the 1960s. So while Martha stays at the orphanage where her son Ben (Sam Claflin) had worked, Mary returns to the States and starts lobbying the government. It helps that her father (James Woods) has government connections.
I’m explaining it all rather briefly – it is a much better drama than this description – it has brilliant acting and a nice soundtrack – although the denouement is rather unbelievable. Mary and Martha gain access to a Senate Committee on Malaria and are allowed to present before them. In typical ‘Hollywood’ fashion, although we had seen them preparing a well-thought out presentation with graphs, numbers and strategy, Mary breaks down and talks about her grief and then Martha shows various photos of children who have died of malaria in a year. It’s sentimental and unlikely to have occurred in such a formal setting. But it works and they get increased government funding for malaria nets and medication to send over. However, as this is a film being used to raise awareness and money for Comic Relief, it almost seems to defeat the purpose. It implies that government funding is the best method of help and only focuses on getting money that way rather than showing perhaps a smaller-scale fundraising programme set up by the mothers; why not show them working with Comic Relief itself? It almost implies that they don’t need any more help now because of this fictional Senate Committee which is now giving increased funding. I also noticed that the iplayer site for Mary and Martha doesn’t even have information on how to donate.
You can donate to Comic Relief by texting the word “APP” to 70005. Your support will result in a £5 donation to Comic Relief for each text message that you send.