“Mary and Martha,” starring Academy Award winner Hilary Swank and Academy Award nominee Brenda Blethyn,” debuts at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 20 on HBO.
Details on “Mary and Martha,” provided by HBO, are as follows:
Oscar winner Hilary Swank (“Million Dollar Baby” “Boys Don¹t Cry”) and Oscar nominee Brenda Blethyn (“Little Voice,” “Secrets & Lies”) star in HBO Films’ MARY AND MARTHA, the story of two mothers who find a way to make a difference, one child at a time. Swank plays an American interior designer who takes her little boy on an extended trip to Africa; Blethyn is an English housewife whose own son heads to Africa as a volunteer. When malaria strikes, the lives of these very different women change forever. They forge a deep friendship and embark on an epic journey of self-discovery to Africa, dedicating themselves to the cause of malaria prevention. Beginning to rebuild their lives, they show how ordinary people can make a difference and inspire positive change in the process. Sam Claflin (“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”), Frank Grillo (“End of Watch”), Lux Haney-Jardine (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”) and James Woods (HBO’s “Too Big To Fail”) also star. Phillip Noyce (“Salt”) directs from a script by Richard Curtis (“Love Actually”).
Debuting at 7 p.m. SATURDAY, APRIL 20, exclusively on HBO, and replaying on World Malaria Day, April 25, MARY AND MARTHA is executive produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Juliette Howell and Liza Chasin and produced by Hilary Bevan Jones and Genevieve Hofmeyr. The film is an HBO Films Presentation of a WTTV Working Title Television Production, in association with BBC and NBC Universal.
Hilary Swank stars as Mary and Brenda Blethyn stars as Martha, an American interior designer and British housewife who have little in common apart from the one thing they wish they didn’t – both have lost sons to malaria. Promising adventure and seeking some time to reconnect with her young son, Mary takes George to South Africa in an effort to be an “extraordinary mom.” While on a trip to a remote area, he contracts the disease. Martha’s son Ben died while working as a volunteer at an orphanage in Mozambique; he had given his own malaria pills to the children there thinking he was not himself in danger.
When the two mothers meet in Africa, they bond over their shared loss while struggling with their grief and the strains on their marriages. Forging a deep friendship, they dedicate themselves to the cause of malaria prevention at great personal cost. Enlisting the help of Mary’s estranged father, a prominent politician, the two women beseech both the powers that be and ordinary people to get involved, realizing a shared responsibility to all the world’s children.
Richard Curtis notes that the film addresses a subject close to his heart, observing, “I’ve always wanted to write a film about the fact that when you have children, there’s always the possibility of extreme joy and extreme sorrow. And over the years, working with Comic Relief [not affiliated with the U.S. organization of the same name], I have come across the tragedy of the startling number of lives taken by malaria every year. This film gives me a chance to write about that too, as well as working with a team of people I hugely admire Brenda Blethyn, Hilary Swank and the great Australian director, Phillip Noyce.”
While the film is a fictional story, Curtis drew from his experiences in charity work. The Martha character was inspired by the real story of Jo Yirrell, whose son died after volunteering in Ghana.
Says Curtis, “It is both fictional and real. The central story of Mary is imagined, though there must be examples of such things happening, and I spoke to a couple of people whose children had been in great danger in similar circumstances. The story of Martha was inspired by the true-life story of Harry and Jo Yirrell. Harry died after volunteering in Ghana, and his mother, a wonderful, boisterous woman, has since then campaigned with Malaria No More UK.
“In my first draft, it was actually called Mary Morgan.” It was a great day when I decided to add another story, so there was somewhere else to go, a second tale to cut in and out of. In some ways, though, the story is an autobiography. I began my interest in Africa and malaria just trying to raise money for nets, but now I am equally interested in supporting the fight to get governments and politicians to take up this brilliant challenge and knock out the disease in our lifetime. Mary’s journey from sorrow to politics is one that I hugely identify with and it provided the key structure to the film.”
MARY AND MARTHA was shot on location in Africa and North Carolina.
More than 1400 kids die each day from malaria, which is one of the top three killer diseases of children around the world, second only to pneumonia and diarrheal diseases. Malaria is caused by a parasite that is passed from person to person by mosquitos. As seen in the film, some of the most useful tools to fight the disease are mosquito nets, which cost $10, and antimalarial treatment, which costs just $1.
The U.S. government and organizations like Malaria No More, Nothing But Nets and ONE are leading the fight and have had tremendous success - malaria deaths are down 33% in Africa in the last decade. Although the disease was eliminated in the U.S. nearly 60 years ago, it remains a serious problem for Africans, where a child is lost to the disease every minute.
For more information on malaria and efforts to end deaths from the disease, visit: www.malarianomore.org.
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