Stefan Golaszewski's observational comedy wraps up in fine style, with Lesley Manville and Lisa McGrillis shining in the subtly of their performances.
And just like that, in six half-hour episodes, Stefan Golaszewski’s Mum has come to a close. A year in Cathy’s (Lesley Manville) life has sped by criminally fast, as the final episode wraps up a year of big changes for our widowed Mum, in the most beautiful of bows.
All the action took place at Cathy’s mundane New Year’s Eve party, attended by all of the series’ various oddbods, giving closure to some of the series’ long rumbling stories, while letting others quietly keep glowing in the background. Lesley Manville continues to capture the essence of Cathy perfectly, displaying tight, unrelenting smiles and tolerant silences, as she listens to the latest problem from one of her loved ones. She’s simply nice, which some would complain is boring, but the intensity to which Manville portrays this niceness makes her a joy to watch.
But Mum is ever a show of opposites and contrasts, so to make up for Cathy’s calm, friendly manner, we get quite the storm of eccentric friends and family. Her dim-witted son Jason (Sam Swainsbury) fails to notice his girlfriend Kelly’s (Lisa McGrillis) aversion to his plans to move to Australia, resulting in a big row just before the New Year arrives. McGrillis is the show’s second triumph; though Kelly is the show’s primary source of comedy through her beautiful ‘blonde’ one-liners (this week’s cracker: “Poor Jesus. What a way to go.”), she is another brilliantly observed, three-dimensional character by Golaszewski. Her low self-esteem, and many insecurities, make you deeply empathise with the character, and see that her relationship with Cathy is a light of hope, as this kind-hearted woman leads her through the ugly world she lives in. I’m sure it’s a difficult balance for an actress to find, but McGrillis does it with all the talent of a veteran, holding her own against the more experienced Manville.
Cathy’s sister-in-law Pauline (Dorothy Atkinson) is all that Cathy is not – breathtakingly snobbish, rude, but like Kelly, deeply insecure. At the start of the series, I questioned the inclusion of such a horrid character, but somehow, though the power of Golaszewski’s remarkable writing, you manage to feel sorry for Pauline, who has been dumped by her rich ex-husband for a younger model. The remainder of the cast are largely unimportant in this episode; bar Cathy’s lifetime friend, Michael (Peter Mullan), whose hopeless unrequited love for the titular Mum is shone a beacon of hope. Perching on the stone wall outside the house together – the same spot the show opened on back in January, when a grieving Cathy was preparing for her husband’s funeral – the two clasp hands with a wave of nervous excitement that leaves you breathless as you watch, despite the understated nature of this declaration of love.
The timescale of the series, which progresses several months between each episode, is a refreshing twist, but perhaps needs a little more work, as it does make the story feel a bit disjointed. Perhaps when the series returns for a second outing next year (yay!), the show could take a turn in the opposite direction – set it over a few days, or even a few hours, like Him & Her: The Wedding, which played out the entire series on the wedding day of two main characters. How about seeing Kelly and Jason’s wedding in the same way? Stefan Golaszewski is the king of unconventionality, so who knows?
Mum has been one of the standout shows of the year. It’s heartfelt, understated nature is reminiscent of some of the best British comedies in history; The Royle Family, or The Office; a throwback to when BBC was at its best and most groundbreaking. I’m thrilled that Cathy, Kelly and Michael will be back for a second series next year, and can’t wait to see where Golaszewski takes these intricate characters next.
Episodes 2-6 of Mum are available on BBC iPlayer, for a limited time.