Mum series 2 preview: Lesley Manville returns in BBC2's quietly brilliant family comedy
"Mum's emotional moments are as powerful as anything on television," says Sarah Carson as series two of the acclaimed BBC sitcom begins
The first series of Mum, two years ago, was a slow-burning grower of a sitcom: Lesley Manville was the patient, obliging widow Cathy, the centrepoint of her small family, as they moved through the months following the death of their father, husband, best friend, and son.
For a series that used grief as its jumping point, there were no dramatic displays of emotion. Instead, this was a simple, subtle comedy about the ways we navigate the quiet tragedies we all know might hit us, but which still shake our worlds upside down.
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It was, too, about the people we do not choose to be close to us but must tolerate – sisters-in-law, parents-in-law, and – most jolting for Cathy – her son Jason’s loquacious but charming new girlfriend Kelly.
Never straying far from the patio in front of Cathy’s three-bedroom semi, it was superb. Each episode marked a few more months of distance from their loss and brought the characters closer to each other; creator Stefan Golaszewski’s scripts brimmed with fantastically sharp observances and subtle family dynamics and he was awarded with a Bafta Craft Award for Best Comedy Writer.
In the series two opener it is Cathy’s 60th birthday, and Kelly, guileless as ever, can’t believe it. “If I met you for the first time I’d be like, ‘That woman is no older than 58!’”
Cathy, bent over the sink: “Thanks love.” She can’t believe it either.
It feels like only yesterday she was 18 – but Kelly’s done the maths. “It wasn’t yesterday though was it Cathy? It was 42 years ago.” She’s designed a banner so the whole street can see how old she is. Cathy, as one would expect, is thrilled. And so the series continues in much the same vein as the first; the passage of time marked by quiet milestones and events that come round each year sooner than you’ve had time to clear up after the last one – Easter, the summer holidays, Bonfire Night...
At first glance, it seems that not much has changed. Lesley Manville's Cathy is all deep breaths and stoic smiles, Lisa McGrillis steals every scene as Kelly, and the brilliant Peter Mullan is heartbreakingly good as close family friend Michael.
His love for Cathy – possibly requited, possibly not – was the driving force of the last series, but this series is layered in its portrayal of relationships. The more you watch, the more you see how much much has changed, and how much closer these people have become as they muddle through their bereavement.
Jason, Cathy’s son, is chattier than before. Dimmer, too, it seems, but more openly concerned about the welfare of his mother. Kelly, whose insecurities are rooted in her disparaging mother – a perfectly-cast Tanya Franks – is living with Cathy and Jason and has found solace in spending time with another mother who loves, unconditionally.
They’re looking for a flat together: far enough to feel like they’ve moved out, but close enough to be able to come back for dinner. And breakfast, sometimes.
Derek, Cathy’s brother, still pops round to check in on his sister, and is still tethered to his venomous snob of a partner Pauline, who continues her quest to ‘civilise’ him with her dogmatic (and heavy-handed) edicts about the theatre, brown bread, and other such bourgeoisie badges of honour. This time around, he lets the emasculating effect she has on him show.
As in his previous series, creator Stefan Golaszewski (who also penned the Bafta-winning Him & Her) is masterful in observing our everyday habits and manners, and leaves long, uneasy pauses to let viewers decipher the unsaid. Apart, of course, with Kelly, for whom little goes unsaid, least of all her love for Cathy.
This series of Mum isn’t a hysterical, riotous romp; the laughs don’t come as easily as they once did, now that we know this family and they know each other. But its emotional moments – sparse and judiciously chosen – are as powerful as anything on television. They are tenderly wrought, and devastatingly familiar.
If the central relationship in the first series was the bonding of Cathy and Kelly, this time Golaszewski has perfectly, sensitively captured the tragedies of good men in crises trying to do their best. Jason is afraid of leaving his mother alone, and is not ready to leave his dead father behind. Derek grapples with his masculinity, and a partner who cruelly undermines him at every turn. And while Lesley Manville may be this show’s beating heart, it is Peter Mullan who shines brightest here as the cautious, doting, Michael; the pair out of sync in their unexpected affection.
Mum is an intimate comedy about love – dutiful, romantic, parental, lost love – that wrenches the emotions, often agonisingly, but is only ever a moment away from a neatly-landed poo gag.