‘The camera settles on the face of young boy. Then an explosion blots out the screen’
‘Mother’s Day’ focuses on two mothers’ responses to the 1993 Warrington bombing
Colin Parry (Daniel Mays), Wendy Parry (Anna Maxwell Martin). Photograph: Steffan Hill
The explosion comes without warning. A normal, almost banal scene becomes horrendously distorted, as the force of the first blast throws a shop window and a body inwards.
The camera settles on the face of a young boy outside, stunned and quiet, and the air fills with smoke, panicked voices and a shrill ringing sound. The second explosion blots out the screen.
The IRA Warrington bombing in 1993, on the day before Mother’s Day, claimed the lives of two young boys: the three-year-old Johnathan Ball, whose family never recovered, and the 12-year-old Tim Parry, whose parents, Colin and Wendy, became courageous and eloquent ambassadors for peace.
It also prompted one outraged Dublin mother, Susan McHugh, to begin the Peace ’93 movement, which began with an urge to be something more than helpless and a call to Liveline, bringing hundreds of people together for a public meeting, then thousands more together in protest.
It is those two responses, from McHugh and Parry, one moved and seemingly naïve, the other stunned and grief-stricken, that writer Nick Leather dramatises in Mother’s Day (RTÉ One, Sunday, 9.30pm), a film that puts as much faith in the effect of a message earnestly and simply told as its protagonists.
“This can’t go on,” insists Vicky McLure’s Susan, less than certain with her accent, but a persuasively irrepressible figure stumbling into politics. For the Parrys, the journey is more fraught. “Talking to people is the only thing that is keeping me sane,” Colin (a terrific Daniel Mays) explains to Anna Maxwell Martin’s Wendy, who would rather grieve privately.
“How dare you claim to represent me,” reads one placard at a rally on O’Connell Street, aimed at the IRA. A gentler version of the question can be asked of anyone dramatising real-life figures, which tends to sand down the complexity of events and personalities for the sake of narrative thrust. The Parrys themselves are anguished about how Tim might be represented.
“If my son becomes a symbol for peace and gives people a reason for hope after so much tragedy, then that will be Tim’s … unique achievement,” Colin says at his funeral, his voice breaking with emotion.
Director Fergus O’Brien frequently includes images of cameras – trained on the eulogy in Warrington, for instance, or greeting Susan in Dublin, while families watch each other on television – aware all the time of how people become symbols, and how those symbols reach outwards.
The film may overstate the wariness McHugh encountered, but it is wise to include sequences of friction, like the Belfast mother to a slain child who criticises McHugh’s belated outrage because, “it reminds me of the outrage you didn’t feel.”
For that there is no easy response, but the lesson of peace is the importance of dialogue. For that reason, although Susan and Colin do most of the talking, it’s Wendy who remains the film’s focus, rendered almost silent by unimaginable pain and uncertainty which Maxwell Martin’s absorbing performance gives real weight.
When Wendy does speak, eloquently and without hesitation, on the Late Late Show, it feels like a door unlocking. “As Sue McHugh says, enough is enough,” Wendy repeats. It was a simple and effective message, born in tragic circumstances, and today’s peace is its legacy.
Feelings have a place in politics, Mother’s Day knows, if they can be given honest voice.