Belfast Telegraph

'There is a huge market for women over 40 who want stories to relate to'

Lesley Manville and Lisa McGrillis reunite for a second series of hit BBC family sitcom Mum. Georgia Humphreys goes behind the scenes

If there's one thing viewers of BBC Two's Mum rave about, it's the perfectly ordinary and believable characters. Series one followed 59-year-old Cathy over the course of a year, as she and her family attempted to move on from her husband's death - covering minor and major life events, with plenty of laughs along the way.

As she returns to play the generous, warm-hearted character for a second run, actress Lesley Manville reckons writer Stefan Golaszewski has "cleverly caught a kind of zeitgeist" with the observational sitcom.

"I think it is getting better for older women," the 61-year-old says of the TV and film industry.

"There's a huge market for women over 40 who want to go and see things that deal with their lives, that don't distance them from it, because they're looking at some svelte 22-year-old in a Wonder Woman outfit - not that Wonder Woman isn't great."

To say Manville has had a successful 2018 so far would be an understatement - she's received her first Oscar nomination (best supporting actress) for her role in drama Phantom Thread. When it comes to shining on the small screen, Mum has been such a hit that the BBC has already commissioned a third series.

"We weren't prepared for how well it was going to be received," admits Manville. "You think, 'Oh God, how can Stefan write a better series? It's so good in series one. But as soon as I read series two, I said, 'He's just surpassed himself'."

One thing Golaszewski - also known for writing sitcom Him and Her - does particularly well is ensure his characters, such as the tactless Kelly (the girlfriend of Cathy's son Jason), aren't one-dimensional.

While McGrillis, who also starred in Inspector George Gently, calls the role an "absolute gift", she admits: "I was quite nervous because she just is ridiculous in a lot of ways."

"You'd be tempted to write off Kelly, because she's blonde and a bit ditsy," remarks Manville, "but there's so much more going on with all of us."

"She's got an incredibly vulnerable side, so that you really feel sorry for her," McGrillis elaborates.

"On paper, she should be incredibly annoying, but you just also want to go, 'Oh Kelly!', and give her a cuddle." What was clear from the very start of Mum is it's not a show based on gags - something which Manville really liked.

"It does what a lot of comedy does now - it straddles drama and comedy," she explains. "You can watch something and laugh and the next five minutes, you're crying."

And at the emotional centre of the show is the potential relationship between Cathy and Michael (Peter Mullan).

"Michael is an old, old, old, old friend," says Manville. "He was very much part of the family when she (Cathy) was married to her husband.

"She was married for 35 years and she's been with one man."

Of Cathy's hesitations about the romance, the actress adds: "You're treading on eggshells all the time because you are 60 and you haven't dated for 40 years and you don't quite know what to do."

But Kelly and Jason (played brilliantly by Sam Swainsbury) don't exactly see the potential between his mum and Michael.

"They think that he's a nuisance and he's pestering her and it's just like, 'Oh my God, can he not read the signals that she's not interested?'," discloses McGrillis.

"Which is where the beautiful humour comes, because bubbling under the surface is this, 'Will they? Won't they?'"

Watch Mum and you'll notice something right away: it doesn't really venture outside Cathy's house. "I think that's part of the charm of it - the half-an-hour episode is half-an-hour in their life," notes McGrillis. "We just see a little snippet of their day."

And Manville says she wouldn't have any interest in doing a "studio audience-type comedy".

"It (Mum) is character-driven and if any of us ever goes near trying to make something funny, we'll get slapped wrists immediately."

"I get sent a lot of comedies," shares McGrillis. "You get some good ones, you get some not-so-good ones and you get some really terrible ones and you think, 'How is this getting made? This isn't funny'.

"But with Stefan's script, what he does so brilliantly is the observation of human behaviour."

One very human element is the lovely, on-screen relationship between Kelly and the ever-patient Cathy.

"I think she (Kelly) sees their friendship as genuine," says McGrillis. "It doesn't matter that there's an age difference - Kelly's got friends who are 82, she's got friends who are 60. I love that."

"It's a bit like us slightly, isn't it?" quips Manville.

Chatting with the pair, it's evident they are extremely close - they've even had sleepovers at Manville's house, near the studios where they shoot.

"For all of us, it's one of the most unique jobs," confides Manville. "In our industry, you work with so many different people all the time and you think, 'Oh, they're great, but I've got no more room in my contacts list and I just can't take on board another friend'. But we're all close friends."

"Obviously, we were really excited to come back for series two to film it and that was brilliant," adds McGrillis avidly. "But I think we were most excited about getting to hang out with each other all day, every day."

Mum, BBC Two, Tuesday, 10pm

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