There was something beguiling and beautiful about Barry Devlin’s Second World War romance that has the unenviable task of taking over BBC1’s Poldark slot on Sunday nights.
My Mother and Other Strangers is a very different beast, slow moving and graceful, there is none of Poldark’s derring-do or bodice ripping. And much as I miss Aidan and Eleanor, it makes for a nice change.
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It’s set in wartime Northern Ireland, the sleepy community of Lough Neagh in County Antrim and told as a voiceover recollection by Francis Coyne, the young boy we see at first causing mischief and playing war games at the beginning. As an adult he has the stunning oaky timbre of Ciarán Hinds who narrates.
It’s in the classic tradition of offering a child’s eye view of adult events, evoking a sense of wide-eyed wonder tinged with a gradual loss of innocence. (And in that sense reminded me a little of The Go Between, BBC drama’s rather lovely film of LP Hartley’s The Go Between last year).
Of course Lough Neagh is not sleepy for long. A US airbase nearby means that of a lot of oversexed young men are over here (to use the phrase from the time). And there is only one pub in town.
The boozer is overseen by Francis’ Dad Michael Coyne (Owen McDonnell), a handsome and rather gruff patriarch who is married to Rose (Hattie Morahan), a posh sounding Englishwoman who is much better educated than him, though for the moment seems rather amused by her surroundings. Like the airmen, she is another ”blow in” but one who seems to have been just about accepted (though note entirely) by the community.
But it’s not Madam Bovary tale of marital frustration. Well not yet anyway. Rose and Michael seem very happy and in love only…. Well. The “Yanks” are also causing a stir in the form of fresh-faced country boy Lieutenant Barnhill (Corey Cott) who rather fancies their 16-year-old daughter Emma (below) and his eagerness sees him get beaten up rather severely, before we learn at the end that he was later killed in a bombing raid. Also Rose has noticed the rather charming air-force liaison officer Captain Dreyfuss (Aaron Staton, who you may remember as Mad Men’s Ken Cosgrove) who made an early tentative appearance tonight with more to come in later episodes.
Unlike her husband Michael he knows his poetry, quoting Tennyson who happens to be a favourite of hers. But their burgeoning friendship takes a back seat when Barnhill defies Michael and takes Emma on a date.
It’s definitely slow moving, this, but it looks beautiful. The cold, grey windswept coastal backdrop has an eerie beauty and director Adrian Shergold is excellent at creating a sense of peace and quiet on the edge of something terrible. This could describe the lives of the character themselves but of the world they live in.
The collision of worlds is also evoked in the way the airmen are brave men flying to Germany and risking their lives, while the villagers have been presumably exempted service to work the land. There is menace hidden in the peace everywhere you look in this backwater.
The cloth caps and dirty jackets of the local contrasts powerfully with the Aviator glasses and bomber jackets of the Americans, with their perfect teeth and Jeeps. No wonder the men of the village are suspicious. And no wonder the ladies are so smitten. There is a lot more trouble to come, I reckon and I’ll definitely be tuning in.