OF all the probably too numerous television programmes I have watched lately, one of the best is the brilliant and moving BBC2 comedy Mum.
This is the latest outing from writer Stefan Golaszewski and director Richard Latxon, the makers of Him & Her, which for some reason passed me by.
Mum is built round an idea that couldn’t be more deceptively simple: a woman of around 60 is coping as best she can after the death of her husband. She is ‘helped’ by a mixed bag of characters, variously including her son and his new girlfriend, her brother and his appalling partner, her husband’s quarrelsome parents, and her husband’s best friend, who has clearly been secretly in love with her for years.
It is amazing how much humour and pathos is squeezed from this scenario in what might be termed a ‘sad-com’.
Everything about Mum is marvellous, but most marvellous of all is Lesley Manville as Cathy, the widow. I can’t remember a more completely compelling performance in a comedy.
Manville is fantastic in the role, moving from brightly attractive and in control one moment to quietly shredded with loss the next. She is just so real in a comedy which makes you squirm as often as laugh; a slow-moving, everyday-sofa sort of a comedy that could be set in your house or mine, so familiar does everything seem (not that I could live in that chaotic household).
The first episode was centred round the comings and goings of the funeral, and was filled with the ordinary cup-of-tea and slice-of-cake moments that accompany the death of a loved one.
One of the many clever things about Mum is that the sit-com template has been adapted to contain so much. For essentially this is a comedy about grief, and it is raw, funny, nervous and human.
In a neat twist, everyone is supposedly concerned about Cathy and in their different ways trying to be supportive, yet she is the pillar around which they all sit: she is really supporting them.
A key relationship is between Cathy and her grown-up son’s new girlfriend, Kelly. There are a few points to be made about Kelly, most notably that she is a car-crash of a young woman who initially seems so stupid you almost wonder if the writer hasn’t done her character a disservice.
Yet as the weeks pass, with each episode you begin to see that Kelly is a bundle of anxieties and insecurities, hidden behind occasional displays of crassness (partly explained by her fright of her mother, who appears one week).
Kelly is ditzy, scatter-brained and clueless but I can’t help falling in love with her. This is partly down to the writing, but also down to Lisa McGrillis, who shines in this dimmest of roles. A few episodes in, I realised that Lisa had appeared as a young constable in the BBC1 police drama George Gently: so completely different the two roles seemingly don’t share an atom.
Also to cherish in Mum is Peter Mullan, who so often plays rogues or thugs, and yet here he is sweetly hopeless as the old family friend in love with the widow of his best friend.
But fullest praise goes to Lesley Manville. I do love acting where so much can be said with so little; and an elevation of her eyebrows or a twitch of her eye says more than many actors do with their too busy bodies.
Even the signature tune is a little gem. It took a bit of a Google but it is Cup Song (You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone), by Miriam Carone. Every bit as good as the comedy it introduces.
Mildly interesting TV footnote: The reborn Top Gear has been rubbished in the media, with everyone from Chris Evans downwards being criticised. I’ve watched all three and thought the first two were fairly poor. Yesterday’s programme wasn’t half bad. It seemed to find its feet thanks to adding more new presenters and was good fun if you like noisy, high-revving nonsense about cars. And sometimes I do.