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‘My Mother and Other Strangers’ Tells the Story of Life During World War II in Northern Ireland
June 18, 2017  | By David Hinckley  | 3 comments
 

Behind a title that could mean almost anything, the new PBS drama My Mother and Other Strangers rivetingly portrays several of the 10,000 human consequences of war.

Debuting Sunday at 8 p.m. ET (check local listings), My Mother focuses on a small circle of lives in a Northern Irish village where American airmen are stationed in 1943-44.

The mother is Rose Coyne (Hattie Morahan, top), whose husband Michael (Owen McDonnell, top) runs the local pub in the fictional town of Moybeg. Rose runs the grocery store next door, sparring with townsfolk who never get quite what they want with their ration cards.

The Coynes have three children, including 16-year-old Emma (Eileen O’Higgins) and her younger brother Francis (Michael Nevin). The story is periodically narrated by an older Francis, looking back on these years and trying to understand things his younger self might have missed.

My Mother focuses on something that’s been incidental in many other World War II dramas: the culture clash and subsequent tension between local folks and the boisterous, swaggering Americans who seem only to want one final round of life before they’re shipped off to the killing fields of battle.

The unease between locals and outsiders moves from the general to the specific when Lt. Barnhill (Corey Cott) asks Michael for permission to date Emma.

Michael sends him packing then Emma tiptoes out to the pictures with him anyway.

While nothing happens, and Lt. Barnhill seems like the epitome of an old-school gentleman, the date ends badly all around.

Lt. Barnhill is, however, just the opening act here – the setup guy for the real romantic intrigue.

Rose, who was born and raised in England before moving to Moybeg when she married Michael, has never quite fit into her adoptive home. She’s more educated, more interested in literature, culture and the world than most of the people around her.

My Mother doesn’t look down on either side of that divide. It does, however, make it clear the divide is real, and that it extends to Rose’s relationship with Michael.

He’s solid, faithful, devoted to his family. But he’s a local guy, content to live inside Moybeg, and he knows Rose sees, and wants, a bigger world than that. “She’s about as local as Churchill,” he murmurs at one point.

Enter Capt. Ronald Dreyfus (Aaron Staton, top), assigned by the U.S. military to work with the Moybeg community on ways in which friction between the townspeople and the stationed airmen could be minimized.

Capt. Dreyfus figures that the local barkeep might have some suggestions, so he stops by to see Michael Coyne.

Instead, he ends up talking with Rose, and since it’s right after the incident with Emma and Lt. Barnhill, they don’t get past that to the broader subject.  

Further conversations ensue, however, during which we learn that the handsome, cultured Capt. Dreyfus is unmarried, and it doesn’t take Sam Spade to see where this could be going.

And yes, in a sense it does echo the recently cancelled PBS drama Home Fires, in which a local woman became involved with a stationed officer.

My Mother takes a very different tone and course from Home Fires, however, though they are linked by the specter of uncertainty that shadows all characters in wartime dramas.  

Lethal armed conflict has a way of reminding everyone, acutely, that tomorrow is not promised.

My Mother, a joint production of BBC Northern Ireland and Masterpiece Theater, is written with considerable skill, dodging almost all temptation to become soap opera, and Morahan leads a strong cast of actors, particularly those portraying the locals.

The filming captures the mist and sometimes bleakness of a small coastal village while also savoring its wild, ragged beauty.

Viewers, like the characters, know that from the beginning the odds of a happy ending here are virtually non-existent. So we, like they, will look for pleasures where we find them in the moment.

 
 
 
 
 
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3 Comments
 
 
sheila
IT was too depressing.Much prefer Home Fires
Jun 20, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Joan Dewey
I echo Joyce Holly, why can't we have Home Fires, too? Why was it cancelled?
Jun 19, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
JOYCE HOLLY
Yes, we enjoyed the first episode & look forward to others. However, why can't we have HOME FIRES as well? What is the reason for cancellation?
Jun 19, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
 
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Good news, TVWW readers: David’s new book from Doubleday, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific is available on Amazon for $20. (Paperback will be available September 5th, here.)

Doubleday says: “Darwin had his theory of evolution, and David Bianculli has his. Bianculli's theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way."

"The Platinum Age of Television is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV. For instance, animation evolved from Rocky and His Friends to South Park; variety shows moved from The Ed Sullivan Show to Saturday Night Live; and family sitcoms grew from I Love Lucy to Modern Family. A high point is the author’s interviews with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Bob Newhart, Matt Groening, Larry David, Amy Schumer and many others...Bianculli has written a highly readable history." —The Washington Post

 

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