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There’s no show like a Mo show

If it’s true that there is or rather was no show like a Joe show then the same can surely be said for a Mo show. In fact, it might be one of the best shows around. Starring the wonderful Julie Walters the docu-drama, simply entitled Mo, was screened on Sunday night on Channel 4.

This programme dealt with the British politician, Mo Mowlam, from 1996 to her death in 2005. She is best known for her part in the Northern Ireland Peace Process, especially the setting up of the independent commission for marching and also her part in the brokering of the Good Friday Agreement. She was famous for her straight-talking and larger than life personality as well as for her battle with brain cancer.
It is these events that were dealt with in most detail in the programme and it has to be said that the programme, although not without fault, was compelling. It was certainly gripping viewing and this it has to be said is mainly down to the extraordinary performance by Julie Walters.
The Educating Rita and Acorn Antiques star gives an excellent portrayal of a deeply intelligent, charismatic and eccentric woman who not only played a role in some of the most significant events in Northern Ireland but also managed to win over the entire nation in Britain.
At one point her popularity in Britain knew no bounds and, although this had a lot to do with her battle against the brain tumour, it also had everything to do with her personality. She famously received a standing ovation during a Labour Party conference not for her own speech but rather at the drop of her name by the then Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Mowlam did not come from a political background. She was the only child in her family to pass the 11-Plus examination and this took her down the path to a grammar school education which eventually lead to a PhD in political science and a lecturing stint in the University of Wisconsin in the late 70s. She tried, unsuccessfully, to be elected numerous times and it wasn’t until she was given a chance at a seat in a guaranteed Labour constituency that she became a member of the English Parliament.
It is after a few years in parliament that we join her in the show and it is clear that she is a set apart from the others, Peter Mandelson in particular; the same Mandelson that would later succeed her as the Northern Ireland Secretary. The year is 1997 and New Labour is making a name for itself and winning votes. Tony Blair is full of ideals and youthful excuberance. In Britain and Northern Ireland change can be felt in the air and Mo is the woman to deliver it.
The show itself, although grounded in political events, is really more about the woman herself, not the politics of the time. It is filled with scene after scene of explanations for her behaviour. It shows her strong will, her frustration and her relationship with a mainly male community very well. Yet, it fails to really get into the politics of the time or the motivations for the way in which people act.
Trimble, Mandelson and Blair come across very badly and it would seem that all three were threatened by the confidence and, in some ways, rude but well meaning nature of the woman.
There are many scenes in which Mo plays on her bullishness to gain inches in an argument. It also deals very effectively with the way in which she could play both sides so as to steer events to a middle or compromise. However, despite all of this cunning scripting, I would still like to have seen more interaction in the political sense.
Walters truly shines in her portrayal of Mo’s illness. It is clear that she suffered a great deal and was terribly ill. It also shows how she refused to disclose just how ill she was and the severity of the illness to everyone including Tony Blair. Her reason for doing this and one can guess that they have done their homework on this was so that she could get the job done and that she would not have to resign. It was also very harrowing to watch as she was moved aside in a cabinet reshuffle to make way for Mandelson. It documented the way in which this hurt her and made her very resentful of not only Tony Blair but the Labour party. It did showcase some of her charitable works but I think it failed to highlight just how much her charity MoMo Helps achieved even while she was alive.
Her deterioration of health was difficult to watch. Especially when she realises that she has been living with the tumour for possibly over 20 years. This causes a small bit of an identity crisis as she wonders if the Mo Mowlam that everyone loves is in fact the product of an illness rather than her own personality. The closing scenes are wonderfully touching and although melodramatic they sit very well with the sentiment that has preceded it and as such do not seem contrived or over the top. The acting all round is superb.
But now to politics of a different kind. Charlie Bird is set to return home to Ireland. Thank God! Mainly because if we had to sit through another series of him whinging and moaning about how he doesn’t have any contacts in the States and watch him bumble his way through the technology I may well have gone over there myself and done the job.
I thought he was a bit of a moaner after he went down the Amazon but really his fly-on-the-wall documentary about his time in American entitled Charlie Bird’s American Year makes him look like an intrepid explorer.
The first episode was hilarious for all the wrong reasons. It was truly awful to watch a man so out of his depth. It reminded me of the auditions for the X-Factor, you know the early rounds when you are constantly reaching for the cushion to bury your head.
Anyway, he will be home soon and it will the turn of someone else to go boldly into the unknown. I wonder if RTÉ will commission a documentary this time around?


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