I was going to write a post about the new BBC comedy ‘Motherland’ and its representation of motherhood, because, well that’s right up my street. Then I thought, what’s the bloody point of that? Who is on their edge of their seat waiting for my take on it? But then since we’re all pushing on in an endless sea of pointlessness, I thought I’d crash on anyway.
In all seriousness, motherhood and its representation in popular culture is something I think really matters and something I really care about. So whilst the new BBC show ‘Motherland’ is a comedy, and therefore designed primarily to make us laugh, that doesn’t mean it gets entirely off the hook. Especially as one of the writers is the fabulous Sharon Horgan, who created such a real portrayal of a relationship as it develops once parenthood comes along.
Anna Maxwell Martin plays the lead ‘Julia’ a stressed out mother trying to balance the demands of ‘having it all’ , made all the more difficult since ‘all’ also includes a stereotypically absent and feckless husband. That’s part of the joke, I get it. He’s a Dad and he’s shit and he’d rather be anywhere than his daughter’s birthday party. There’s also Diane Morgan as Liz the scatty, scummy single mam, and Paul Ready as Kevin the wet, slightly useless stay at home Dad.
I guess ‘Motherland’ wants to be a depiction of ‘real life’ parenting, raging against the glossy , picture perfect myths we’ve all been pedalled for so long. But this is ‘real life’ only if your life is part of the metropolitan elite, and you live in a big house in the North London suburbs (is North London the cool one? I don’t know, I live in a very uncool Dublin suburb) and you have a middle class professional job. Well, this is the BBC after all.
On the plus side it is funny. I don’t think I actually laughed out loud but I definitely smirked, and may even have snorted at one point (edited to add: I just watched the third episode and I didn’t smile at all. Sad face). There are moments of subtly grim recognition – like the smashed screen on Liz’s phone, and the desperation of mingling with the parents at a kids birthday party. And the two leads are excellent – I could pretty much watch Anna Maxwell Martin and Diane Jones in anything, all day long.
On the other hand, as I said, it’s horribly middle class and unrelatable . Yes , ‘Julia’ is stressed, but she has a lovely big house and a nice wardrobe that certainly looks more Jigsaw than H and M. (Although Liz does send this up, when she asks ‘why’ve you come as Hillary Clinton?’)
It’s great that an alternative view of motherhood is being presented , a view that is based on maternal voices rather than the patriarchal construction of motherhood we’ve been sold that has let us down so badly.But. Even though there is much I don’t identify with in this, there is something incredibly bleak about seeing the stresses of your life reflected back at you on the small screen. Although played for comic effect, the pressures that Julia is under are all too real for so many parents, and actually the reasons behind them (PATRIARCHY! SEXISM! INEQUALITY! CAPITALISM) make me pretty furious.
As well as that, I think the issue of representation and the voices that we hear is important too. I have a theory that only a certain kind of mother is allowed to portray the slummy mummy trope – and that is basically white , middle class women. There’s a scene in episode one where the ‘racist’ kids party act pretends not to notice a black child raise their hand to volunteer, and instead chooses the white kid. A show that features minority characters only as bit parts ( in the episodes I have seen anyway) really can’t get away with that kind of gag. So please, if we’re going to listen to maternal voices, let’s try hard to make sure they’re diverse.