We watched a BBC film the other night called simply, The Mother. Two things occurred to me after watching it. Firstly, I was yet again struck by the fact that many actors are cast for the kind of face they have. They can be the best actors in the world, and given the chance they'd be great in a wide variety of roles, but at the end of the day, if you work for TV or the movies, you are likely to be cast in a role that fits your face.
There were two particular examples here. Anne Reid (known from a long way back as Ken Barlow's first wife in Coronation St) played the downtrodden mother of the title. Downtrodden was written all over her face, and all Anne had to do, in a sense, was play to that look on her face, and she'd express everything the director and scriptwriter wanted. (She does do a lot more, but that doesn't negate my point.)
Steven Mackintosh also appeared. Mackintosh is unlikely to play a trustworthy character; there's something about the shape of his face and the ways his eyes look at you that tells the audience: if you're suspicious of this bloke, you have every reason to be. In his role as the Mother's son, he was playing an ordinary ambitious family man - but you could see there was something sneaky going on. Mackintosh didn't need to do anything in particular to convey this; it's written in his face. (I don't know what Mackintosh is like in real life - he's probably a delightful person - but his face, on screen, says something different.) I couldn't remember where I'd seen this actor before, and of course IMDB was its usual helpful self and reminded me that Mackintosh had been the villain in one of the Prime Suspect episodes. He'd played a man who had cut himself off from emotions, who had no qualms about his villainy or his control of weaker people, and who seemed able to bring even the imperious Helen Mirren to her knees. Mackintosh played this role brilliantly...his face helping not a little.
The second thing was that it was hard to gauge what the author of the screenplay was trying to say: was it that everyone, underneath, is basically selfish, and as a result will bring out the selfishness in others? That certainly happened: even the seemingly gentle Mother turned out to be selfish in her own way, though you might have credited her with some good reason for being so, given what her life had been like up until the time her husband suddenly died (early in the story). There wasn't a character in the film who wound up eliciting our sympathies completely. The Mother's daughter vacillated between blaming her mother for all her problems - and causing them herself (I'm not sure that the script helped the actress here: the part didn't seem quite to know who it was). The son gave a pretence of being concerned about his mother's sudden widowhood - until the pressures of business called him away. His wife didn't give her mother-in-law the time of day, and, without concern that her mother-in-law was listening, said that she hated her in-laws being in the house. The man who was putting a new conservatory on the son and daughter-in-law's house was happy to have sex with both the daughter and the mother - for his own ends. When he discovered that the Mother wasn't going to give him the money she'd offered in the way he'd expected, he flew into a fearful, foul-mouthed self-centred rage. This character was played by Daniel Craig, in the days before he became the most uptight and edgy James Bond we've seen. He's brilliant in the role, but after feeling sympathy towards him early in the piece (he and the mother do get on well as people) you hate him at the end.
So what was the point of this unpleasant exercise? Does seeing it encourage us to want to be kinder to our ageing parents? Perhaps, except that the parent in this piece finishes up not worrying about whether her children care about her any more. It certainly shows that selfish children are a menace to older people (especially when their own children are just as selfish), but the writer of the script hints more than once that the Mother was selfish herself from way back. We never quite know whether this was because she was controlled by her husband, who cut her off from friends and other relationships (and that would seem to be the obvious reason) or whether she was just naturally not cut out to be a mother. Her behaviour towards her own daughter's lover can be seen on one hand as a natural need to be loved by someone - anyone; or it can be seen as a bizarre kind of continuation of hurting her daughter. That's assuming that what the daughter says about her mother is true, and this aspect of their relationship never quite makes sense.
An open-ended piece and thought-provoking. You would probably not want to know any of these people (you'd be likely to come out of it worse off), but perhaps they teach us something, if we're willing to stop and think about it.