Television Review

Mother might be a mystery, but ‘Mother’ isn’t

From left: Aaron Staton, Hattie Morahan, and Owen McDonnell.
From left: Aaron Staton, Hattie Morahan, and Owen McDonnell.Steffan Hill/bbc

The title of this five-part PBS “Masterpiece” drama, set in 1943 Ireland, has a chilly undercurrent. The mother in question, Rose Coyne (Hattie Morahan), is counted as one of the strangers. She is a stranger to the local townsfolk, and, sadly, she may be a stranger of sorts to her own family, including Francis, the 10-year-old son who narrates the story as an adult (voiced by Ciaran Hinds).

Rose is an English woman married to an Irish bar owner in Moybeg, a village in Northern Ireland. With her preference for correct grammar and her love of literature, she hardly blends into the rural atmosphere, where working-class families live on rations and rogue fisherman struggle to survive. Michael (Owen McDonnell), her husband, teases her for her posh English background — “Rose is about as local as Winston Churchill,” he jokes — but there’s bitterness in his joshing. He knows there’s a part of her that he’ll never reach, no matter how cozy their lives may be. And, like the others in Moybeg, he has a deep and instinctive resistance to outsiders.


The “Other Strangers” in the series, which premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. on WGBH 2, are a bunch of US airmen. The drama takes place during World War II, and, much to the dismay of the Moybeg residents, the Americans have built a station nearby. The bomber planes resound overhead, and the young servicemen ramble through the town, looking for kicks before they fly off on dangerous missions. One of the airmen, the handsome Lieutenant Barnhill (Corey Cott), becomes smitten with Rose and Michael’s teenage daughter, Emma (Eileen O’Higgins). In one scene, Barnhill shows up at the Coyne home to ask Michael if he can date Emma, and Michael ridicules the airman, pretending not to know what the word date means.

Turns out Michael ought to be more concerned about another American and another member of his family. One of the airmen has captured Rose’s eye, not least of all because he loves Tennyson as much as she does. He is Captain Dreyfuss, played with stiff gentlemanly charm by Aaron Staton of “Mad Men,” and the two begin a friendship that seems destined to become more based on their heavy eye contact and matching temperaments. He looks to her for advice on how to engender cooperation between the residents and the airmen, aware that she is more open-minded than her neighbors. She looks to him for company that is more genteel than that of her husband.


“My Mother and Other Strangers,” written by Barry Devlin, is beautifully filmed, and, like so many “Masterpiece” productions, it certainly offers transport to another time and place. It has a wistful appeal. But the series relies too much on one-dimensional characters — particularly the local men who are always itching for a brawl — and story lines that rarely go to unexpected places. It’s pleasant, slight, and a tad too obvious.


Starring: Hattie Morahan, Owen McDonnell, Aaron Staton, Ciaran Hinds, Michael Nevin, Eileen O’Higgins

On: WGBH 2, Sunday at 8 p.m.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.