Mary and Martha

2013-04-21_0008“Disease of the Week” telemovies used to be all the rage in the 1980s and 1990s. Hallmark used to tug at our heart-strings with regularity to the point of audience condescension.

They had become so routine and emotive that they risked apathy towards the very diseases they were advocating.

So it can’t be easy for HBO to tackle the subject of Malaria as it does in Mary and Martha.

But this is no cheaply-filmed weepie. Instead it is written by Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Love Actually, War Horse) and it has two shining actresses spearheading its story, Hilary Swank and Brenda Blethyn.

Australian Phillip Noyce is the film’s director.

The story largely takes place in South Africa as where two western sons succumb to malaria from a mosquito bite.

Swank plays Mary, an American housewife who takes her young son to Africa on a 6 month expedition of a lifetime. But after adventures on safari and a growing appreciation of African culture, he becomes violently ill and dies after Mary rushes him to a local hospital.

Martha (Blethyn) is the meek English mother of a young man who travels to Africa to teach. He too falls victim to malaria, drawing his mother to the land in search of answers.

The two mothers meet in South Africa and forge a friendship in grief and a desire to effect change, else their sons’ deaths will be in vain.

While Mary becomes a lone voice advocating change in the American political system, Martha makes life-changes by staying in South Africa to care for children.

The message in Mary and Martha is powerful, and sometimes overwhelming. This is a telemovie that wears its heart on its sleeve, but it is tempered by the joy of Africa and most especially by the performance of its two lead actresses.

Swank’s Mary is determined, fragile and wracked with guilt. Blethyn is far more naive as Martha but with a heart as big as Africa she brings affirmation to this potentially grim story.

James Woods will also appear as Mary’s father, while Frank Grillo plays her husband, trying to move on from the family’s loss.

Against the backdrop of Africa, with its dusty colours and uplifting singing, Mary and Martha achieves optimism as well as driving home its political message.

Noyce cleverly draws us in as emotionally invested viewers (you may need the Kleenex at the ready) and successfully creates awareness of a much-overlooked plague.

It’s impossible not to be moved by this one.

Mary and Martha premieres 6:55pm Thursday April 25 on Premiere.

One Comment:

  1. Be interesting to see how it does in the context of just another movie. Here it aired as part of the build up to Comic Relief so just felt so out of place when we’ve seen many reports and documentaries over the years where celebs go over and meet real people in these situations. Fictionalising it just seems to devalue the message somewhat.

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