Going into this week, most people are on tenterhooks to see how Game of Thrones will finally come to an end. However, for me, the most-anticipated TV finale of this week and indeed 2019 is that of BBC Two’s gentle-comedy drama Mum. Sadly, for fans of the show such as myself, Stefan Golaszewski’s bittersweet and deeply human comedy is coming to an end after three glorious series and with this final run all being available on the iPlayer following tonight’s airing of the opening instalment. I can’t be the only one who’ll be tempted to binge on all six episodes to see if the show’s protagonist Cathy (Lesley Manville) gets the happy ending she deserves.
Just like the final series of Golaszewski’s equally brilliant Him and Her, Mum’s last run takes the characters outside of their usual setting and supplants them somewhere new. In the case of Mum, it’s a large country house which has been hired for the birthday week of Cathy’s brother Derek (Ross Boatman) by his snooty partner Pauline (Dorothy Atkinson). The character’s arrival at the house dominates most of the episode, beginning with Cathy driving up to the estate accompanied by son Jason (Sam Swainsbury) and his girlfriend Kelly (Lisa McGrillis). Their tour around the house is brilliantly choreographed as Pauline delights in showing off the extravagant surroundings that the characters will be experiencing for the next week. There are some fantastic comic moments here, including a recurring bad joke about the smart TV making coffee and Cathy seeing that she has been given the Lego-strewn room of the house’s regular residents’ young son.
One of Mum’s best-told stories has been showing widowed Cathy’s gradual realisation of the feelings she has for her old friend Michael (Peter Mullan). I was personally shocked when it was revealed that Michael and Cathy had spent the previous night together and the latter had to leave the former’s house quickly in order not to arouse suspicion. Michael’s arrival at the grandiose estate reveals that Cathy had left her reading glasses at his house, which is a brilliant callback to the first episode where she spent most of her time trying to find the same spectacles. As a fan of the show, it was incredibly shocking to see Cathy and Michael share a quick kiss, seeing as the last time we saw them they were simply holding hands during fireworks night. However, although it does appear that the pair are now together, it is still early days and Cathy hasn’t yet told Jason about the new man in her life.
Jason’s feelings towards Michael’s pursuit of his mother were briefly covered in the series two finale as the former accused the latter of stealing his best friend’s wife. However, in series three, it becomes one of the recurring story threads as Jason becomes increasingly confrontational towards Michael as the week progresses. There are definitely hints to it here as Jason and Michael clash over their memories of the former’s late father, arguing whether he would’ve been the first person in the swimming pool. Furthermore, Jason questions Michael’s mere presence at the house, insinuating that he doesn’t trust him around his mother. As ever though, this tension is soon broken up with another comic moment as Michael is confronted with the incredibly-pink bedroom he will be spending the next week in.
As well as dealing with his feelings regarding Michael’s presence in his mother’s life, it’s clear that Jason has other things to worry about as he’s soon to become a father. Although it’s evident that Kelly and Jason are to become parents as soon she declines Pauline’s offer of a glass of champagne, the dimwitted pair are keen to hide this fact from their family and friends. Kelly’s claims that she is just on strong antibiotics that make her emotional and want to eat during the day, aren’t believed by any of the other characters for a second, but the fact they play along demonstrates how much love all these people have for one another. This is best exemplified by a later scene in which Kelly asks Cathy about the pains she’s experiencing under the guise that she’s asking for a colleague. Cathy plays along marvellously, not letting on to Kelly that she’s aware of her ruse whilst also showing how delighted she is to become a grandmother.
The final arrivals at the house are Cathy’s in-laws Reg and Maureen (Karl Johnson and Marlene Sidway), the latter of whom is utterly thirsty after consuming too many Pringles during their journey. Reg and Maureen were the only characters in Mum’s ensemble that I didn’t initially connect to, but I felt I began to understand their relationship in the last series when Reg worried about his wife after she went into hospital for an operation. Their arrival demonstrates that they’re not going to be as impressed by their new surroundings as the rest of the characters with Reg complaining about the smell of the cows and Maureen wondering why they’re being offered free food. However, there is also a wonderfully sweet moment at the episode’s end when Maureen wonders how she’ll get up the house’s large flight of stairs and Reg lovingly stating that he’ll get her up the stairs.
There aren’t enough superlatives to describe how much I love Mum and I was completely satisfied with this final series and where all the characters ultimately end up. Sometimes, when characters are removed from the environment we’re used to seeing them in, things don’t seem the same but that isn’t the case with Mum’s third series. I believe that this is because, even though we’re not in Cathy’s home anymore, for the most part, it’s still the same characters conversing inside a house, albeit one with 4.5 acres worth of grounds. The brilliance of this series is that we never leave the estate and instead simply see the characters talk about what they’ve done whether that be going for a meal or watching a Transformers movie. The new surroundings also allow for interactions between characters that we haven’t previously seen in Mum’s prior two series. For example, there are some great scenes between Kelly and Derek in this series whilst there are also some brilliant moments between Pauline, Reg and Maureen.
These interactions demonstrate how much chemistry the cast has together and, from hearing them talk during the press screening, it’s clear that filming this series was almost like a mini-holiday for all eight actors. The performances are resolutely fantastic with each character delivering the one-liners perfectly whilst also showing the vulnerability and flaws that make them all feel incredibly human. Lesley Manville anchors the series perfectly as Cathy, especially considering most of her scenes see her reacting to the ludicrous lines that the other characters utter. It’s also great to see her play out the romance with Mullan’s Michael. Like Manville, Mullan shows himself to be a great reactor, with Michael often seen standing around, smiling and looking like an outsider.
The best performances in this first episode though come from Lisa McGrillis and Dorothy Atkinson as Kelly and Pauline respectively. Throughout Mum, McGrillis has shown how talented a comedy actress she is, which is demonstrated here during Kelly’s fruitless attempts to cover up her pregnancy. As the pompous Pauline, Atkinson has always been a highlight of the series but is given even more prominence here as she gloats about her divorce settlement and straddles her new car. As Derek’s birthday week is all organised by Pauline, Atkinson gets a chance to show off the character’s domineering attitudes whilst also showing her more vulnerable nature. Atkinson’s performance is perfectly offset by the naive turn given by Ross Boatman as the good-natured Derek, who is incredibly eager to please his demanding other-half. It’s revealed in the first episode that Derek is planning to propose to Pauline and this, like all of the other story threads, is given a brilliant pay-off by the time we get to Mum’s last-ever episode.
As with every series ending, I was quite trepidatious about the conclusion to Mum and how Golaszewski would handle the characters he clearly cares for dearly. Without revealing the ending, I can say I was entirely satisfied as the final moments are both believable and rewarding for those of us who’ve been watching since 2016. I’ll certainly be sad to see Mum go but it’s rare that a series offers up eighteen perfect episodes but that’s exactly what Golaszewski has done through a combination of believable characters and dialogue and aided by fantastic performances from the show’s entire ensemble.
Contributed by Matt Donnelly.
Mum Continues Wednesday at 10.00pm on BBC Two or binge the whole series on iPlayer now.