Why The A Word’s Morven Christie is brilliantly challenging our perceptions of the TV mum

Mum Alison is a fierce female lead in the BBC1 drama – and perfectly realised by actress Morven Christie says Sarah Doran

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When you hear the term TV mum, there are many things you associate with it. Matriarch, caregiver, supporter on the one hand; nagger, neglectful, evil step mother on the other.

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Light and dark, black and white, with little room for manoeuvre in between.

But when it comes to The A Word’s fierce female lead, Alison, the shades of grey shine though – and that’s what’s so utterly brilliant about Morven Christie’s portrayal of her.

Sitting watching the latest episode, during which Alison comes face to face with a girl she claims she unwittingly tormented as a child, I found myself absolutely hating her for no apparent reason.

“Of course she was a bully. She’s a piece of work,” I mumbled to myself, musing about how terrible a job she was doing when it came to being constructive about helping her son Joe.

“Why isn’t she letting anyone help?” I mentally fumed, “it’s no wonder her poor daughter’s lost the rag with her.”

And then, somewhere in the midst of my self-righteous internal tirade, I realised something. Alison wasn’t really unlikeable – she was just far more realistic than most mothers I’d seen on TV.

The mums we see tend to be brilliant, supportive, angelic creatures, or positively abhorrent, forceful women who either neglect their children’s wants and needs or force them down paths they don’t want to follow.

Alison, on the other hand, flirts with both these stereotypes, but never settles on one side or the other. Alison is both brilliant and forceful, bulldozing through anything she deems an obstacle on the path to her son’s happiness and well-being.

The lengths to which Alison is prepared to go for her son are never more clearly illustrated than during the third episode of Peter Bowker’s beautiful Lake District drama.

Abandoning work, and her daughter’s desperate pleas for her to come to her school play, Alison jumped in her car and sat in a hospital waiting room for hours, in the hopes of merely speaking to a specialist for a few minutes.

Should she have taken a hint when the therapist said no, repeatedly, the first time? Maybe. Would she have been better off trying to go to her daughter’s play? Most likely. Did she ever claim to be the perfect mother? No.

Because there is no such thing. Parents don’t always get it right. They don’t always do what’s best for their children, while trying to do what’s best for their children.

“I turned into a tiger,” Christie explained in a recent interview about the role with The Independent, citing a friend’s claim that they became ‘a tiger’ for their own child with autism.

Mums fight tooth and nail for their children, with little care for what others think. Mums end up in psychological playground wars with other parents because they want their child to feel confident, secure and loved. Mums get it wrong.

Mums aren’t perfect.

And that’s why Christie’s portrayal of Alison, a woman we sympathise with and struggle to warm to at the same time, is as close to perfection as you’re going to get on TV right now.

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The A Word continues on BBC1 on Tuesday nights at 9pm