Motherland review: Parenting comedy returns with sad and angry hidden depths

Sharon Horgan’s unvarnished depiction of what it is to be a mother is back

Ed Cumming
Wednesday 09 October 2019 12:22
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Motherland trailer

Motherland (BBC2), which is back for a second series, is a curious thing. You want so much for it to be good. It’s a comedy about middle-class London mothers, an underrepresented demographic on television compared to, say, detectives with personality defects, but more representative of the audience. Rather than the glamorous #inspo vision of parenthood this is a world in which children are sent to school in inappropriate footwear, 8pm is a late night out, and careers must be squeezed in the few cracks between other commitments. Realistic, basically.

It’s bulging with talent, too. It was created by Holly Walsh and Sharon Horgan, who is currently second only to Phoebe Waller-Bridge in the “can do no wrong” female actor-writer league tables. The pilot was directed and co-written by Graham Linehan, the brilliant Father Ted creator who has enjoyed a surprising late-career flourish as a furious tweeter on trans issues. His wife, Helen, is a co-writer here. The stars are Diane Morgan, Lucy Punch and Anna Maxwell Martin as Liz, Amanda and Julia, schoolgate frenemies, with Paul Ready as Kevin, the weedy token male. There is something comforting about Morgan’s Boltonian drawl, deployed to such hilarious effect as Philomena Cunk, and you could watch Maxwell Martin do her tax return. Frankly, seeing some of the nonsense Netflix has put out recently, I might pitch it.

Horgan has said that she realised only as she watched it that for all its unvarnished depiction of parenting, the first series was “really f***ing white”. To address the imbalance they have added a new character, Meg, played by Tanya Moodie. Meg appears to be violating the first rule of Motherland, which is that it is impossible to “have it all”. She seems to play and work with equal ferocity, with a big job that involves many business calls, as well as a penchant for tequila slammers and a happy home life. But is it sustainable?

As gentle entertainment, it’s not hard to watch. There are plenty of slapstick laughs as Meg’s polished facade starts to slip, although you can see some of the gags coming a mile off. But the real engine of the comedy is the relationship between Liz and Julia, who share a weary world view, and the appalling Amanda, with whom they are forced to be in near-constant contact.There is a more interesting, angrier, sadder programme half-visible beneath the surface of Motherland, about the sacrifices women are forced to make, hour by hour, in a world where they might not be able to have it all but are expected to anyway.

All of Motherland series two is now available on BBC iPlayer

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