MotherFatherSon is nothing if not ambitious. BBC2 gives us a conspiracy thriller tied in with a family relationship drama tied in with a state-of-the-nation story, starring Richard Gere (no less) as well as Helen McCrory, Billy Howle, and Sarah Lancashire – and there’s a LOT going on.
To explain: Max (Gere) is a self-made American businessman with one of the world’s most influential media empires. As you may have guessed, he is the “Father” of the title. The “Mother” is his estranged wife Kathryn (McCrory), while the “Son” is their grown-up problem child Caden (Howle) who knows his father finds him deeply inadequate, and is therefore going completely and utterly off the rails with drugs and excess and highly unusual sex sessions.
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When his self-destructive spiral leads to a massive stroke, there are huge consequences for this family unit as Caden must rebuild his life entirely from scratch, with each parent navigating this new reality.
There are also consequences for the country at large, given that Caden knows secrets that could bring Max’s media empire crashing down… just as Britain is about to go to the polls for a General Election. And two of Caden’s own journalists are already keen to do some digging.
Although writer Tom Rob Smith is at pains to stress that none of the characters are based on real people and especially have nothing to do with an elderly Australian media mogul called Rupert, there is definitely something familiarly Murdochian about Richard Gere’s character Max.
Max is a man with a media empire who boasts he can “pick the next Prime Minister.” He has private meetings at Downing Street. He is courted by top politicians. He lives abroad, but has cemented his influence in the UK as owner of a top newspaper, and he knows all the tactics for getting his own way.
But even if there are traces of Murdoch in the character, Max is more of an “archetype” of the media mogul – and this being Richard Gere, he can shape himself to fit that mould perfectly. The alpha male playing mind games, throwing his weight around, always in control of the situation while effortlessly keeping everyone else on edge… well, Gere has a certain presence and charisma that makes him entirely believable in the role.
But then you take a young man like Caden, and on the flip side all those attributes as a powerful businessman make Max a pretty lousy dad.
Honestly, it felt like watching the Philip and Charles episode of The Crown all over again, when the weight of his hyper-masculine father’s expectations crushes the Prince and his sensitive soul. I cried at that and, let me tell you, MotherFatherSon had me wiping away the tears.
Talking of which: MAN there’s a great scene in episode one where mother and son are just staring at each other across the table at a posh restaurant, and all the unsaid words are piling up between them and Caden is utterly powerless to speak about what’s going on and they don’t break eye contact even as the tears roll down Kathryn’s cheeks. All hail Helen McCrory and Billy Howle and their impressive eye-acting.
Not everyone will love MotherFatherSon, most likely because the dialogue is so heightened that it is almost theatrical. No one speaks like that, you might protest! The monologues! The wordy powerplay! The conversations laden with not-so-hidden meanings!
But Tom Rob Smith’s script makes this an exceptionally tense (and intense) piece of drama which will leave you with a lot of complicated feelings. Add in some exceptional performances from Helen McCrory, Richard Gere and Billy Howle and the whole thing is elevated to another level.
MotherFatherSon is an ambitious drama – but so far, it works.
This article was originally published in February 2019