In a welcome move, the BBC haven’t left period drama fans bereft after season 2 of Poldark, with the introduction of another 5-episode drama titled My Mother and Other Strangers. It’s lacking the high excitement of the Cornish adaptation but has no novel behind it as an inspiration- instead it’s a (somewhat) original plot that paints a nostalgic scene in the fictional Irish village of Moybeg. The series has been written by Barry Devlin, a Northern Irish writer who was also behind Ballykissangel and The Darling Buds of May.
In episode 1, the sleepy village is about to undergo a transformation with the installation of an airfield and barracks for the United States air force. The tight community of families all deal differently with the new American soldiers – from restless teen Emma Coyne (Eileen O’Higgins), who’s bowled over by a glamorous Lieutenant (Cory Cott), to her mother Rose Coyne (Hattie Morahan), who strikes up a friendship with the modest Captain Dreyfuss (Mad Men‘s Aaron Station).
My Mother and Other Strangers is nothing bold. In fact, similar plots have been done before and there’s nothing that couldn’t be predicted. Hattie Morahan, an actress who is already a veteran of period dramas (including the 2008 Sense and Sensibility adaptation), holds the heart of the story but her character has a relatively simple backstory. She’s the sole English person in the village, unsettled in a location that she’s clearly never found to be home. It’s no surprise that when the dashing Captain turns up, she’s already more than a little bit distracted.
Also, can we have a little moment of appreciation for the fact that Aaron Staton has made it to BBC period dramas? He’s such a lovely, charismatic actor and he shone in Mad Men, not least for this moment –
Anyway, the drama spells out that there’s plenty to expect for those two. Otherwise, the show doesn’t offer too much. An invisible voice-over by Ciarin Hinds, portraying the older version of Rose’s young son, bookends the episode, suggesting that this is seen as a memory and may have an aura of subjectivity.
There’s also a strong moment where Emma’s young Lieutenant suitor lets his confident mask slip to display a painful unhappiness in being in the village. Despite his best efforts to enjoy the potentially limited time he has left, the villagers remain hostile at every turn. It’s something that frustrates him, as he knows that himself and his fellow American soldiers are fighting to preserve the kind of peace that the town are lucky enough to still enjoy.
My Mother and Other Strangers lacks the high drama that we grew accustomed to on a Sunday night with Poldark, but for dedicated period drama fans, it will keep those evenings occupied. It’s early days though – there’s still room to move the plot in unusual ways. We’ll just have to wait and see.
My Mother and Other Strangers is airing on BBC One at 9pm every Sunday until 11 December.