Set in 1943, My Mother and Other Strangers follows moral conflicts and forbidden love when an American airbase opens up in a rural Northern Irish parish.
Like their unwelcoming neighbours, the Coyne family struggle to adapt to the sudden intrusion of 4,000 ‘Yanks’, with their dashing uniforms, Lucky Strike cigarettes and low-flying military planes.
Here, Hattie Morahan, 38, who plays schoolteacher Rose Coyne, tells us more about the ‘us versus them’ story…
How would you describe Rose?
“Rose is a principled person and occupies many different roles within the community – she’s a schoolteacher and helps run the shop – so people see her as someone who is very together, yet she doesn’t feel totally accepted in the parish. She’s English and is far away from her family in London, which is being bombed. She feels like an outsider.”
So she can empathise when the Americans receive a frosty welcome?
“Yes. I didn’t know much about Northern Ireland’s role during the war before filming this but the politics of local communities were divided, so Rose is rubbing up against her neighbours who are siding with the Allies. She also comes into conflict with her husband, Michael Coyne [Owen McDonnell], as well as some of the attitudes in the parish that drive her round the bend.”
What state is her marriage in?
“It’s functioning, and there is a lot of love there, but they lead such busy lives, with three kids to look after, and Michael has a farm and runs the local pub. Plus, they’re different in many ways and there’s something in Rose that isn’t being fulfilled, hence her wandering attention to a certain American airman…”
Does she find a kindred spirit in Captain Dreyfuss (Mad Men’s Aaron Staton)?
She’s alarmed when she has these feelings for Dreyfuss, who’s a liaison officer for the airbase, but she’s determined to remain honorable. However, there’s an itch that hasn’t been scratched, although Dreyfuss isn’t the sort of knight in shining armour who would sweep you off your feet. It’s more like a meeting of minds and souls that takes her by surprise.
The story is based on writer Barry Devlin’s memories of growing up next to an RAF airfield…
“Yes, My Mother and Other Strangers is such a personal project for him. Rose is an invention, but there are other characters that are based on real people, including Michael, who is like Barry’s father, and 10-year-old Francis Coyne [Michael Nevin], who is Barry himself. I’ve been really struck by Barry’s writing actually. I have never read anything with such a flavour of a place or a particular world. It feels like we are seeing a little slither of a real life lived elsewhere.”
And Barry also wrote My Mother and Other Strangers with you in mind…
“I was a bit puzzled by that but it’s very flattering. He said that Rose is, on one hand very on top of her life, but at the same time she can make a fool of herself. Maybe he saw that combination in me!”
My Mother and Other Strangers airs on BBC1 on Sunday, November 13