Heads Up: Curtis wheels out some big guns to target malaria


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The Independent Culture

What are we talking about? A 90-minute, one-off drama from the BBC – and HBO – about two women, one American, one English; they have little in common, but both have lost sons to malaria, picked up in Africa.

Elevator pitch Richard Curtis, Hilary Swank and Brenda Blethyn – but it's for television, actually.

Prime movers It's written by Richard Curtis – Four Weddings and a Funeral; Love, Actually – and directed by Aussie Phillip Noyce (Rabbit-Proof Fence).

The stars Pretty punchy: American film star Hilary Swank (who won Oscars for both Million Dollar Baby and Boys Don't Cry) plays Mary, while British great Brenda Blethyn (OBE, and star of Secrets & Lies, Little Voice and Vera) is Martha.

The early buzz The Telegraph's Mandrake wrote: "He turned Hugh Grant into a Hollywood star and helped revive the British film industry, but now Richard Curtis has taken on perhaps his most difficult challenge. The creator of Four Weddings ... and Notting Hill tells Mandrake that he is making a film about malaria which he hopes will make [viewers] laugh as well as cry." There was excitement stateside too; website IndieWire wrote: "Hilary Swank will star alongside Brenda Blethyn in the HBO TV movie Mary and Martha. The names attached behind the camera are pretty impressive too, with Salt director Phillip Noyce set to helm the Richard Curtis (Love, Actually) penned script. The story will follow two women who emerge from traumatic family tragedy to form a unique bond while fighting for the eradication of malaria. Sounds like pretty heavy stuff, but yet again HBO seems to have lined up the talent to match."

Insider knowledge It's all for a good cause. Curtis has long campaigned on the subject of tackling malaria, and Mary & Martha will be shown just ahead of Comic Relief, as an awareness-raising exercise as well as a piece of TV entertainment.

It's great that … Curtis has tempted Swank to TV and, with HBO onside too, this should be a quality, well-funded, transatlantic venture.

It's a shame that … while Red Nose Day is, of course, a good cause, Mary & Martha runs the risk of coming across as a bit sentimentally manipulative or overly worthy.

Hit potential The Curtis-Swank-Blethyn triple should draw a varied audience; may play well in the US too.

The details Mary & Martha airs on BBC1 in early next month.