Oscar® winner Hilary Swank and Oscar® nominee Brenda Blethyn star in HBO Films’ MARY AND MARTHA, an epic journey of self-discovery as two mothers forge a unique bond after traumatic events in Africa bring them together. The two very different women – one an American interior designer and the other a British housewife – meet in Africa while they struggle with their grief and strains on their marriages. After they decide to work together to raise awareness of malaria, a preventable and treatable disease, they begin to rebuild their lives and in the process, inspire change.
Richard Curtis notes that the film addresses a subject close to his heart, observing, “I’ve always wanted to write a film about the fact that when you have children, there’s always the possibility of extreme joy and extreme sorrow. And over the years, working with Comic Relief [not affiliated with the U.S. organization of the same name], I have come across the tragedy of the startling number of lives taken by malaria every year. This film gives me a chance to write about that too, as well as working with a team of people I hugely admire – Brenda Blethyn, Hilary Swank and the great Australian director, Phillip Noyce.”
While the film is a fictional story, Curtis drew from his experiences in charity work. The Martha character was inspired by the real story of a British woman whose son died after volunteering in Ghana.
Says Curtis, “It is both fictional and real. The central story of Mary is imagined, though there must be examples of such things happening, and I spoke to a couple of people whose children had been in great danger in similar circumstances. The story of Martha was inspired by the true-life story of Harry and Jo Yirrell. Harry died after volunteering in Ghana, and his mother, a wonderful, boisterous woman, has since then campaigned with Malaria No More UK.
“In my first draft, it was actually called ‘Mary Morgan.’ It was a great day when I decided to add another story, so there was somewhere else to go, a second tale to cut in and out of. In some ways, though, the story is an autobiography. I began my interest in Africa and malaria just trying to raise money for nets, but now I am equally interested in supporting the fight to get governments and politicians to take up this brilliant challenge and knock out the disease in our lifetime. Mary’s journey from sorrow to politics is one that I hugely identify with and it provided the key structure to the film.”
James Woods (HBO’s Too Big To Fail), Frank Grillo (End of Watch), Sam Claflin (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) and Lux Haney-Jardine (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) also star.
MARY AND MARTHA was shot on location in Africa and North Carolina.