Posts Tagged ‘Dowager Countess of Grantham’

This week has been about recognition of strong women – Thursday was International Women’s Day and today is Mothering Sunday in the UK.

Make no mistake, motherhood is definitely not for sissies; especially for those women who are raising the children (and sometimes, grandchildren) all on their own due to divorce or widowhood. Their grit, persistence and fierce love is inspiring.

Here are just a few examples of tough telly mums:

Louisa Durrell (Keeley Hawes) – The Durrells in Corfu

A widow and mother of four, Louisa takes a leap of faith to start a new life for her family in Greece. It’s a daily struggle to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads, never mind maintaining the animal sanctuary her youngest child has established.

Sgt. Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) – Happy Valley

A 47 year old police officer, Catherine is divorced, lives with her sister who’s a recovering heroin addict, has two grown up children; one dead and one who doesn’t speak to her, and a grandson.

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Polly Gray (Helen McCrory) – Peaky Blinders

When she became a widow, Polly had her children removed from her care. She’s recently been reunited with her son Michael who made the choice, contrary to his mother’s wishes, to join of her crime syndicate family.

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DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman)- Broadchurch

Ellie is divorced and a working mother of two. First she had to come to grips with the fact that her husband was a murderer. Then her teenage son starts peddling porn. This mum is not a happy camper.

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Violet Crawley, The Dowager Countess of Grantham (Dame Maggie Smith) – Downton Abbey

The no-nonsense matriarch of an aristocratic family, the Dowager’s main concern is keeping her family’s reputation and fortunes intact. She expresses her love in blunt, but constructive terms.

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In 2013 Channel 4 ran a gritty mini-series called Run. Picked up by Hulu here in the States, I put it on my watch list for one reason only – Olivia Colman was in it.

Olivia Colman plays a tough single mum with two out of control sons.

Olivia Colman plays a tough single mum with two out of control sons.


When I learned that each episode was self-contained, one story just slightly overlapping the next, and that Ms. Colman only appeared in the the premiere, I considered stopping after watching her performance.  By the end of that first hour, however, I realized Run was well-written and superbly performed. But most of all, I had a feeling there were lessons I could learn from watching these people struggle on the streets of South London.

1. Council Estate Tower Blocks – Though I personally never saw tower after tower of council flats when I was in London, they are quite common in British TV crime shows such as Law and Order UK and Luther. 


London Tower Block

London Tower Block


Built to alleviate the housing shortage after the Second World War, high rise apartment complexes were popular at first, but quickly design flaws and shoddy construction turned many of these buildings into crime-ridden, rundown slums for the working class poor.  Many of the characters in Run live in similar conditions or worse.

That doesn’t mean fun and levity can’t be found on council estates as well. After all Dell Boy and Rodney lived on one, didn’t they?


2. The Immigrant Issue –  Two of the four episodes in Run featured illegal immigration as a major part of the story – a young Chinese woman named Ying (Katie Leung) lives a miserable existence. As if sleeping on the floor of a communal flat with other Chinese illegals, selling pirated DVDs and stolen electronics on the street and being perused by the police isn’t enough, Ying must also report to a brutal gang leader to repay her debts for passage into the country.


Kasia, a Polish woman who also entered the UK illegally, is still working a menial labor job after several years in London. When she discovers that her boyfriend (who happens to broker marriages for foreigners seeking British citizenship) has been living a double life, Kasia finds herself with no money and a very uncertain future.


It goes without saying that I’m no expert. I don’t know a thing about the United Kingdom’s policies on immigration or any quotas that exist. Nevertheless I surmise from watching Run and other dramas that portray similar circumstances, there is rampant mistreatment of people desperate to immigrate to London and other cities to improve their lot only to have abuse perpetrated upon them, often by their own ethnic group.  Obviously exploitation isn’t what the immigrants expect when they arrive in a land of opportunity and none of this activity  is good for British citizens either.

If any UK readers would like to enlighten me further on this situation, I’d be happy to hear how reality differs from TV drama.

3. Tough Mums  – While there’s nothing particularly British about family dysfunction, the hardened mothers of Run do what they think is best for their sons who’ve gone astray on the streets of London.

For example, when Richard (Lennie James) tries to enlist his mother to get him access to his estranged teenage daughter, his mum (Mona Hammond) is resolute in her refusal to enable her drug dependent son.



Carol (Olivia Colman) is a single mother, worn out with trying to hold on to her idle sons. She tries to bribe them with a new TV and home cooked meals but they appreciate nothing. Abusive to women and randomly violent, it doesn’t take long to realize the apples haven’t fallen far from the tree.


In the end, Carol must decide whether to protect her sons or turn them in for a violent crime in hopes of keeping them from becoming even more monstrous. A difficult verdict to reach when your own flesh and blood is involved to be sure.
Come to think of it, perhaps stern matriarchs are a British thing after all…


The Dowager Countess of Grantham in all her stern glory - ITV

The Dowager Countess of Grantham in all her tenacious glory – ITV


Run was a great mini-series that literally came full circle in the final scene. While harsh reality outweighed happy endings, the hope the characters were allowed lightened their difficult lives and made them bearable…because a mother made a hard choice, because a young woman sacrificed her chance at better life for the happiness of a friend, because a grown man finally took responsibility for his past mistakes, because a woman who’d been wronged refused the tainted path offered to her and chose to run instead.

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