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Mary and Martha

Fri Mar 1, 8.30-10pm, BBC1

Mary and Martha
David Bloomer
By Phil Harrison |
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There’s no doubting Richard Curtis’s good intentions here – it is both heartbreaking and obscene that something as easily preventable as malaria should continue to take such a vast toll of the developing world. But this feature-length drama still feels like a misfire.

Brenda Blethyn and Hilary Swank are the titular pairing; two bereaved mothers who have lost their boys to the disease. Aspects of the premise are tortured – Swank’s Mary, for example, is painted as a devoted mother, but still seems to have taken her pre-pubescent son into an infected zone without giving him any tablets. But that’s merely a failure of logic. The nub of the problem with ‘Mary and Martha’ is of a more philosophical, less forgiveable nature.

The victims here might be the millions of dying Africans. But they’re ciphers in this scenario: mute, almost incidental benificiaries of Mary and Martha’s journeys towards self-realisation. Presumably, some would argue that viewers need to relate in order to understand. But the victims seriously need a voice here if this film is not to be seen as cultural imperialism masquerading as compassion. There’s nothing wrong with the performances – Blethyn in particular does pained but resilient middle-aged women brilliantly – but the end result is queasy to say the least.

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