Why Lesley Manville’s Mum is much more than a sitcom

Lesley Manville and Peter Mullan in the brilliant Mum
Lesley Manville and Peter Mullan in the brilliant Mum
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Hurrah for Mum.

There is always something vaguely unedifying about binge-watching, but when it comes to certain series I just can’t help myself and Mum is one of them.

For those of you who have been more restrained than I have (although to be fair I did ration myself to two episodes at one sitting) fear not, I promise I won’t be giving away the (totally perfect) ending of the third and final series of Stefan Golaszewski’s superlative comedy-drama currently airing on BBC2 (and bingeably available on iPlayer) but I reserve the right to wax lyrical about it. Starring the always wonderful Lesley Manville, the first series of Mum introduced us to Cathy, a 59-year-old who has recently lost her husband Dave, his best friend Michael (played by Peter Mullan with an adoring and adorable twinkle in his eye) who, it is clear to the viewer from very early on, has always been in love with her.

The simple narrative set-up then, is – will they or won’t they get together? But the whole piece goes far deeper than that familiar trope. As in real life, things are way more complicated. Into the mix are thrown Cathy’s grown up son and in-laws whose feelings Cathy selflessly puts before her own. On the sidelines are her son’s garrulous other half Kelly, Cathy’s good-hearted but oafish brother Derek and his icily snobbish partner Pauline.

The writing is so beautifully, awe-inspiringly poised. Golaszewski has created characters which at first may seem to be broad brush – the grumpy grandpa, the selfish son, the flibbertigibbet girlfriend and so on, but they are all allowed to eventually reveal hidden depths. Golaszewski also has that rare gift of being able to make you laugh one minute and cry the next.

The script’s moments of searing emotional honesty often come out of the blue and are always right on the mark. And he is able to find exquisite tenderness in seemingly banal situations.

There is an encounter between Cathy and Michael as she hangs out the washing that is possibly one of the most romantic scenes I’ve ever seen on TV.

The ensemble playing is outstanding but Manville and Mullan are truly magnificent conveying myriad emotions in a glance or a shrug. Mum has also given voice to a figure often conspicuous in its absence on screen – the older woman.

As Manville said in a recent interview: “It’s important for young people to see that older people have not turned off a button and become this kind of muted, non-feeling entity.” Life, death, grief, loss and the possibility of new beginnings – Mum had it all. I’m going to miss her now she’s gone.