Holy hell, where did MotherFatherSon spring from?
This 8 part series about a dysfunctional media family is written like it belongs on the stage: intense performances, scintillating dialogue and themes of power, corruption and the human condition.
It comes from the pen of Tom Rob Smith (The Assassination of Gianni Versace, London Spy) and it is impossible not to feel like it is heavily influenced by the Murdoch dynasty.
Richard Gere undertakes his first television lead as American newspaper baron Max Finch, who can make or break British Prime Ministers. He owns the National Reporter, a quality newspaper to contrast with his American tabloids.
Son Caden (Billy Howle) is Editor living in his father’s shadow. He is continually seeking validation from his father, an emptiness which spirals out of control in addiction and anonymous sex.
Kathryn (Helen McCrory) is the estranged wife to Max and mother of Caden. Regretful of her family’s disintegration, she devotes time to a sheltered workshop, where she is drawn to unemployed Scott Ruskin (Joseph Mawle). But there are rival newspapers looking to create a scandal on their relationship in order to destroy Max.
Meanwhile fired political journalist Maggie (Sinéad Cusack) teams up with Nick Caplan (Paul Ready) as part of a dense sub-plot to also bring down her former employer. Look out too for Sarah Lancashire as the aspiring Leader of the Opposition, Angela Howard, who needs Max’s endorsement if she is to win government.
The tug of war over Caden, by a manipulative father and a mother who was guiltily ripped from her young son, snaps by the end of the first episode.
If Succession is like the Dallas version of the Murdochs, then MotherFatherSon is the House of Cards version.
Tom Rob Smith brings a poisoned poetry to this screenplay… from the moment Max quizzes the (Muslim) British Prime Minister Jahan Zakari (Danny Sapani) over his strange, pale shortbread…. to Caden firing esteemed journalist Maggie telling her, “You believed in this paper once,” whereupon she replies, “I believed in something. It just wasn’t you”…. to a twisted sex scene between stark naked Caden and a hooker where he echoes his father’s demands, “Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear.”
Director James Kent imbues the piece with striking visuals and there are rare fade-to-blacks, more common in classic cinema than modern teleplays.
But it is the performances that linger after the credits roll. Helen McRory (occasionally in flashback wigs) is stunning as the tormented mother, desperate to reconnect with a son she was forced to abandon. Gere brings strength to his corrupt puppetmaster while Billy Howle navigates the most complex of them all.
Comparisons with Succession, starring Brian Cox as the media baron, are easily-made, but it is possible to love both children, at least until we are compelled Sophie’s Choice-like, to choose one over the other.
MotherFatherSon is the slower burn of the two, but ultimately the classier offering.
MotherFatherSon begins 8:30pm tonight on BBC First.