Last Night’s TV – Mo

by Lynn Connolly

I had expected this film to be good. Anything which contains Julie Walters is; it’s as sure a bet as night following day, and I wasn’t to be disappointed.

Her portrayal of the hugely forthright and colourful character that Mo Mowlam was, was a treat to watch, even when the going became tough towards the end and felt uncomfortably real.

For real it was of course, the story told based on the actual events of the latter years of Mo Mowlam’s lfe, and what a brave woman she was. The writer, Neil McKay, managed to present a tale of personal and public heroism without dipping it in treacle. In fact, so few garnishes were added, it was an embodiment of that oft used phrase, ‘gritty realism’.

If you want a dictionary definition of those words, watch Mo.

We saw the public persona of course that the public came to know and trust, but most interestingly, we got to see the Mo behind the curtain, both in office and at home, and what came across most strongly was that she was unwilling to bow down in the face of tremendous adversity.

I would imagine that if I were diagnosed with a terminal illness, I’d simply want to crawl away somewhere and have nothing more challenging to do than fight for my life, but that wasn’t the case for Mowlam.

Within days of finding out she had an aggressive malignant brain tumour, she was starting a new job. And no ordinary job either for it was on her shoulders to broker peace in Northern Ireland.

And despite her consultant urging her to tell everyone around her the stark truth about her illness, she chose instead to deny it. We saw her lying to Tony Blair and telling him that her tumour was benign and wouldn’t get in her way at all. We saw her taking it on the chin as the tabloids attacked her for her array of wigs and her weight gain – both a result of radiotherapy – and ultimately, her unpleasant epiphany about how her tumour may have shaped her persona.

But as well as the story being a fascinating one, the combination of Julie Walters and the supporting cast made this one of those increasingly endangered species; a truly valuable piece of biographical drama.

Steven Mackintosh played a wonderfully slimy Peter Mandelson and John Lynch managed to pull off a convincing Gerry Adams, but one of the stars for me – aside from Julie of course – was David Haig as Mo’s husband Jonathan. All were utterly believable and Haig played the part of a man in Mo’s shadow with warmth and humour.

If you missed Mo, you can watch it on 4oD, and you’d be well advised to treat yourself to it when you can spare the time. Not only is the story interesting and based on fact of course, it’s also adapted magnificently to screen.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.