Sometimes, it takes a familiar face to put a face on a problem… even one that is international in scope.
Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank is no stranger to championing social causes, and she takes up another as she and two-time Oscar nominee Brenda Blethyn play the title roles in the HBO drama movie “Mary and Martha” Saturday at 8 p.m.
Written by Richard Curtis (“Love Actually,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral”) and filmed largely in South Africa, the BBC and NBC Universal co-production tells the story of two very different women who unite to crusade against malaria after both lose sons to the illness.
Mary (Swank) is an American who takes her child (Lux Haney-Jardine, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”) away from bullying classmates for an “adventure” abroad, and Martha (Blethyn) is an Englishwoman whose son (Sam Claflin, “Snow White and the Huntsman”) volunteers at an African orphanage. After both young men contract and die of malaria, their mothers meet and bond, then decide to take their message about the disease to the masses — and ultimately to a Washington, D.C., hearing.
James Woods also appears as Mary’s politically connected father in the film, directed by Phillip Noyce (“Clear and Present Danger”).
“Obviously, what’s on the page is the most important thing in the beginning,” Swank says, “but you follow it up with talent like that, in every corner, and it’s a no-brainer. It’s something you just jump at to be a part of.”
Swank has played mothers before (“Conviction,” “The Reaping”), and that aspect of “Mary and Martha” largely drove her performance.
“I don’t think there’s anything worse in the world than losing a child,” Swank says. “I don’t have children of my own, but I have a lot of them in my life… nieces and nephews, children of boyfriends. Still, it was all on the page here.”
After writing for stars from Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts to Colin Firth and Emma Thompson, Curtis says he is pleased that Swank and Blethyn embody his Mary and Martha.
“They make for a very exciting clash of cultures,” he says. “There is something about Brenda that is so profoundly British and so humane, and, likewise, there’s an extraordinary Americanness and determination and kind of wisdom about Hilary. They were on the far ends of the characters I’d written, and I was delighted about that.”
The TV movie remains in relative decline, which makes a weekend in which two high-profile versions with big-name stars and overt messages playing directly opposite each other especially noteworthy. It’s also instructive, in a compare-and-contrast sort of way, to consider why “Mary and Martha” — a moving return to intimate form for HBO — represents an emotionally stirring triumph, while Lifetime’s “Call Me Crazy: A Five Film” feels like an empty gimmick, an all-star marketing hook/public-service campaign in search of a movie.
After a stretch in which HBO has relied almost exclusively on attention-getting fact-based films like “Game Change” and “Phil Spector,” “Mary and Martha” harks back to when the service was content to tell great little stories — often with an agenda — that might not have been commercial enough to find a home elsewhere. And if one’s first thought is the 2005 gem “The Girl in the Cafe,” it should come as less of a surprise that “Mary” comes from that movie’s writer, Richard Curtis.
At its core a personal story about two mothers joined in grief, “Mary and Martha” is also a passionate piece of advocacy. Moreover, it reflects Curtis’ penchant for envisioning a world where good can come of ordinary people’s do-good passion, which is both uplifting and reassuring, even if it doesn’t always conform to reality.
A trio of Oscar winners will soon be in the Land of Enchantment.
Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank and Meryl Streep will all star in Jones’ directed feature, “The Homesman.”
“The Homesman” is based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout with a script written by Tommy Lee Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald and Wesley Oliver.
This Western follows the journey of a claim jumper, played by Jones, and an independent pioneer woman (Hilary Swank) who team up to escort three women driven mad by the Nebraska frontier back to Iowa.
According to the New Mexico Film Office, the production will employ more than 100 New Mexico crew members and more than 200 New Mexico principal and background talent.
Principal photography is scheduled for the end of March through mid-May at various locations in the Las Vegas, N.M. and Santa Fe areas.
The film will also star Grace Gumman, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter and Tim Blake Nelson.
It is produced by Michael Fitzgerald (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, The Pledge and the upcoming The Rosenthal Gang), Tommy Lee Jones (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and The Sunset Limited) and Peter Brant (Pollock, Basquiat).
Streep last won an Oscar for her role in “The Iron Lady,” while Swank picked up her last Oscar in “Million Dollar Baby.” Jones picked up his Oscar for his role in “The Fugitive.”
On April 20th, HBO will debut their latest original film, Mary and Martha, a tale of two mothers fighting to prevent the spread of malaria after they both lose sons to the disease. The film stars two-time Oscar® winner Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby) and Oscar® nominee Brenda Blethyn (Atonement) as the titular characters whose strong bond helps them enact change even as they are consumed by grief. Ahead of the premiere, HBO has released two trailers for the film, both of which are embedded below.
In addition to Swank and Blethyn, the cast also includes James Woods (Too Big to Fail), Frank Grillo (End of Watch) and Sam Claflin (Pirates of the Caribbean: Strange Tides).
Mary and Martha premieres Saturday, April 20th at 8PM on HBO.
February 20, 2013 • Category: Movies, Video •
Richard Curtis discusses why he made Mary & Martha in the latest issue of The Radio Times. He explains how he learned the sad, strange truth about malaria through his work with Comic Relief, that it’s a disease that’s “entirely preventable and curable” but kills “a million people a year, most of them children.”
Curtis decided he couldn’t just go on being:
a writer who knew about this stuff intimately, and yet continued to write fictional films, usually featuring weddings.
This, he says, is why he wrote Mary & Martha.
The film was directed by Phillip Noyce, and the BBC will premiere it on Friday March 1st. HBO will be screening it in the coming weeks too.
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