Mum – Review and Interview
By Scott Green
August 22, 2017
When Kate goes back to see her mother after a few years away, she realizes that far from being ready for a day out, her mum is gravely ill. And no one thought to tell her. So she takes matters into her own hands and although she doesn’t get the day she wanted, she gets the day she needed.
Cast and Crew:
Writer/director Anne-Marie O’Connor began her career writing for theatre before penning three novels, Everyone’s Got a Bono Story, My Made Up Life and Star Struck. She moved into screenwriting, co-creating Sky 1’s long-running hit comedy Trollied, starring Jane Horrocks, Jason Watkins and Mark Addy. She is currently working on returning dramas in the UK and US, and has written and is due to direct her first feature.
In the role of the central character, Kate, transgender actress Kate O’Donnell continues to make a name for herself, after starring in the BBC’s groundbreaking series Boy Meets Girl, she then went on to play Feste in the Royal Exchange’s recent production of Twelfth Night, directed by internationally renowned theatre director Jo Davis. Her second one woman show, You’ve Changed premiers at Edinburgh International Festival in July.
Mum stars two other young transgender actors to watch, Ash Palmisciano and Joseph Pearson (Joe is ten and Mum was his first screen role), alongside Kenneth Colley, known for his work in Star Wars and Peaky Blinders.
Kate’s brother, Carl, is played by respected British actor, Lee Boardman, a familiar face to many with roles in the Emmy winning Starz show, Da Vinci’s Demons, Bryan Singer’s Jack the Giant Slayer, London Boulevard, alongside Keira Knightley and Colin Farrell, and in Coronation Street, in which he portrayed fan-favourite bad guy, Jez Quigley.
Mum is played by acclaimed theatre actress, Margot Leicester, fresh from her role as Camilla Parker-Bowles on in Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III both on Broadway and on BBC2. Executive produced by Gail Egan and Andrea Calderwood, (Last King of Scotland, Constant Gardener, A Most Wanted Man). Edited by Chris Wyatt (This is England, God’s Own Country) with an original score from Peter Gregson (Wonder Woman, A Little Chaos).
After premiering at the BFI Flare the BFI’s LGBTQ Film Festival, it has gone on to win best LGBTQ film at the London Independent Film Festival, the Award of Excellence at Global Shorts and has just been in competition as part of the official selection at the 2017 Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Mum starts out as what seems to be a day in the life of a woman who is going to spend time with her mother. As it progresses we see that this isnt your average story. When the main character is a child, you see that he was a little boy, whose mother takes care of him. As a teen or young adult we see that their roles have changes and he is now helping to take care of her. The next time we see them, the mother is more gravely ill, and that child is now a woman. The film deals with the struggles of not only being a caregiver to a parent, but also the additional issue of being transgender and how a family reacts to this. Its seen that the mother and brother are accepting, the father not so much. As the film goes on the daughter is now helping the mother, just like the mother helped her as a child. What is important is the quality of spending time with the ones you love and how precious they are.
If you get the chance to see this film I recommend it. This film doesnt hit you over the head with the pros or cons of the LGBTQ issue. In this film its just a matter of fact. It does bring up issues, but what is important is the relationship between the mother and child.
Interview with Anne-Marie O’Connor and Kate O’Donnell
- What was the inspiration behind Mum?
Kate ODonnell (who plays Kate in MUM) is a good friend of mine and as a leading trans actor and activist Ive always wanted to work with her creatively. We often discussed the way that transgender people are portrayed in film and TV (the fascination with the transition, the no-one-will-ever-love-me storyline, sex workers or outsiders) and we wanted to move that narrative along. To have a transgender central character in a universal story. And so I met Kate and I asked her what story she would tell if she could and it simply came from saying shed love to go home and paint her mums nails something she used to do when she was younger but is impossible to do now because her stepfather makes life difficult (hes always been difficult, way before Kate transitioned!) and so we built the story around her own story.
2. How was the transition from writing to both writing and directing? What did you find easy and what did you find difficult about directing?
I think that directing is an extension of writing. As I writer I find that Im always thinking about how what Im writing will look and be performed on screen. So I found it easy to visualize what I wanted and to convey that to the actors (I hope!) What did I find difficult? I dont really think there was anything that I found particularly difficult. We had challenges along the way but nothing that wasnt easily smoothed over by everyone else around me being extremely good at doing their job.
3. I have experience being a caregiver and can tell you that the stress and issues presented during the film are very true, even without adding the extra pressure of being transgender. Was this based on real life experience?
No. I have no direct experience of being a care giver but I have seen relatives who have spent a life time care giving and I used that as the spring board as to how that must feel. It was very important to me that Graham wasnt the big bad wolf and Kate the knight in shining armor. They both needed to have a clear view point and to have their own view of the situation theyve found themselves in.
4. This is the story of that spans different stages in a family and their relations with their mother and each other. How close was this to the lead actors own experiences?
MUM is based on Kates family but is actually a fantasy of the day she would like to spend with her own mum. She hasnt seen her own mum for some time because of the difficult nature of her relationship with Graham and it is the sadness around this that led to us making MUM.
5. I found the relationship between the mother and the lead actor very touching. How realistic is this experience for a transgender person?
Kate: Thank you. I think its very hit and miss for trans people. My family buried their heads when I told them I had transitioned. My mum never got used to calling me by my female name and often mis-gendered me. None of this was done horribly or to make a point, but it didnt help when we were out and about!
- How much acceptance has there been being a transgender actor? What are the challenges that you still experience in the industry?
Kate: I am lucky as I make my own work and co-created this film with Anne-Marie. I am very proactive and Im not waiting around for parts to come to me (as a fifty two year old transgender women, Id be waiting a long time!) I create my own roles. There is a huge gap to be filled with both trans and gender fluid stories and the actors to fill those roles. Gender is very binary in film and TV: the men tend towards the tall dark and handsome, the women towards the small and beautiful. This is tricky for a lot of trans men and women who dont conform to this aesthetic.
7. Did the collaborations that you’ve done in your successful previous work influence your work on Mum?
Kate: Film was a new area for me as I am from a dance and theatre background. I loved the subtlety of the film, that the trans aspect of it was almost incidental. As a theatre performer used to working alone on the stage I had to bring down my performance but keep the humour and edge. And the DOP, Colm Whelan taught me that its all about the eyes!
8. What are the advantages and challenges in working in a short film?
The advantage we found in making MUM was that we brought together a team of extremely talented and experienced people who were available for the short period of time that we were filming (four days). Many of our team were women (18 of 22 crew) a lot of us mums to young children, so the time scale worked in a way that a feature wouldnt.
The challenges were all part and parcel of making a film on a tight budget: casting great talent and hoping theyll like the film enough to do it for a nominal amount of money. Finding locations that fit not only to the story but that we could afford! Logistics, feeding everyone and trying to do this all for ten thousand pounds. Which we did, just!
- Do you see yourself eventually moving to directing in feature length films?
I would love to. I have written a film which I will also direct.
10. Are there any other mediums you’d like to work in, such as documentaries, animated, tv, webisodes?
I came from a theatre and novel and TV writing background so Ive tried my hand at most areas of writing. I prefer writing TV and film though as I feel that you are allowed to be creative, but that you also have the rigor of working with a team who will edit it the work and then youll be pulled up by the audience if its not working.
11. Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to let us know about?
Im currently working with Warp Films on a returning drama series and Big Talk on a comedy series. In the US I am developing a cable series idea and Im currently doing a final redraft of the feature Ive written to direct.
12. Where will this film be shown next?
We are screening in LA in September, date to be confirmed.