Some Mother’s Son: BBC/RTE’s Warrington bomb drama ‘Mother’s Day’

When Dolores O’Riordan passed away earlier this year, Colin Parry, whose 12 year old son Tim was killed by the IRA in the 1993 Warrington bomb, was stunned to learn that The Cranberries’ anti violence hit Zombie was a response to the attack.

“I was completely unaware,” he confessed to the BBC.

”After my wife told me, I watched the song and tried to listen to the words and then went to download them to read.

“The words are majestic and very real. The event at Warrington,  like so many events around these islands of Ireland and Great Britain down the many years affected families in very real ways and people may have become immune to the pain and suffering so many people experienced through that armed campaign.

“To read the words written by an Irish band in such a compelling way was very, very powerful.

“I likened it to the enormous amount of mail expressing huge sympathy that we received in the days and weeks after our loss and we had an enormous amount and proportionally a very high amount came from the island of Ireland.”

The Cranberries’ creative response to Warrington was typical of the reaction many people throughout these islands had to the double bomb attack that claimed the life of three year old Jonathan Ball as well as Tim Parry.

There were, of course, many, many atrocities during the Troubles that led to similar outpourings of outrage – Bloody Sunday, Bloody Friday, the Guildford and Birmingham pub bombings, the Miami Showband Massacre, the deaths of the Maguire children, La Mon, Warrenpont, Darkley, Enniskillen, Teebane, The Shankill Bomb, Greysteel, Loughinisland.

Warrington, however, struck a particular chord in Dublin where the Clontarf housewife, Susan McHugh was so moved by the Ball and Parry families’ loss that she found herself organising a rally condemning the atrocity outside the GPO, attended by 20,000 people.

Susan McHugh’s empathy for the Parrys and her anger at the loss of the two boys’ lives has inspired Nick Leather’s compassionate drama ‘Mother’s Day’ which aired in Ireland on Sunday night and the U.K. last night.

But where the BBC/RTÉ coproduction really made its mark was in its depiction of grief in all its manifestations.

Anna Maxwell Martin and Daniel Mays played Wendy and Colin Parry with a raw honesty and integrity.

At the start of Fergus O’Brien’s film, we saw Colin teaching Wendy to drive while Adam Mitchell’s Tim visited a sports shop in the centre of Warrington.

In an unexpected move, O’Brien depicted the first blast from inside the store, with a shop assistant being blown across the room.

The depiction of the second explosion was even more devastating, with Tim in a state of disarray after being floored by the first blast.

Urged by a voice offscreen to run for his life, he ran straight into the second bomb.

Mays and Maxwell Martin simply did not hit a false note in their portrayal of the Parrys.

it would take a heart of stone not to be moved by their depiction of dignity the Parrys showed in the days following the bombing as Tim, his body completely covered in bandages, struggled to hold onto his life in hospital.

Leather and O’Brien did not flinch in showing the Parrys’ heartbreak in sequences where Colin suddenly broke down in a traffic jam caused by an arson attack on an Irish club and later in a scene where Wendy returned to work as a school dinner lady only to freeze as her colleagues served boys around Tim’s age.

The director and his writer also sensitively handled the scenes where the family decided to finally let go of Tim and switch off his life support.

Mays delivered a note perfect recreation of Colin Parry’s eulogy for Tim, choking up at exactly the right moment when he talked about his son’s death hopefully inspiring something better.

The Irish counterpart to the Parrys in Leather’s drama were Vicky McClure and David Wilmot’s Susan and Arthur McHugh.

In another committed performance on the small screen, McClure’s Susan was a modest mother suddenly catapulted into the media spotlight for instinctively responding on RTE Radio 1’s ‘Liveline’ to the bomb attacks.

Even though McClure’s accent occasionally wobbled, the ‘Line of Duty’ star again demonstrated why she is one of the most perceptive and instinctive actresses currently working in British television.

Irish actor David Wilmot also provided solid support as her patient and dedicated husband, resolutely standing by his wife in the face of threatening phone calls and fears that their car might be booby trapped.

Simone Kirby also sparkled as Susan’s work colleague and friend Fran.

in a touching sequence, Susan’s Clontarf neighbours showed their solidarity with her by hanging out banners emblazoned with the word ‘Peace’ outside their bedroom windows.

But the drama was also not afraid to confront some hard truths.

The most raw section of Leather’s drama saw Susan and Arthur McHugh travel north of the border to meet the families of those killed by the security forces and IRA , following criticism that they had ignored the plight of other victims.

An angry mother of a girl killed by the security forces berated Susan for not protesting whenever her child’s life was taken, posing the questions “Has she not the same value?”and “Do you know her name?”

In an electrifyingly written encounter, McClure and Wilmot brilliantly conveyed the shock and awkwardness of their characters as they were told “When I lost her no-one in Dublin picked up the phone. no-one sent flowers.”

And in one of the most stark fictional portrayals of the sensitivities around victims in Northern Ireland, Leather had the mother deliver this devastating rebuke: “Your outrage about the English children outrages me because it reminded me of the outrage you didn’t feel.”

A similar meeting with a loyalist woman who had lost a loved one to the IRA was equally tough to watch, as she told the McHughs she was not interested in what people in the Irish Republic thought about the Provisionals.

It was a shame that all the Northern Irish characters were presented as hard headed and too entrenched to envisage a future of peace and reconciliation because that clearly was not the case.

However O’Brien and Leather should be commended for delivering an intelligent and sensitive portrayal of a victims story that acknowledged and respected the suffering of all sides.

A scene where the Parrys appeared on RTE’s chat show ‘The Late Late Show’, with Conor Mullen doing a decent impersonation as Gay Byrne, was also deftly handled.

Movingly acted, astutely written and intelligently directed, don’t be surprised if ‘Mother’s Day’ lands award nominations next year across a number of categories.

But like Alex Gibney’s Loughinisland documentary ‘No Stone Unturned’, its greatest achievement is the way it once again shines a stark light on the need for the Stormont parties and the British and Irish Governments to find a way to address the ongoing pain of victims on all sides of the conflict.

(‘Mother’s Day’ aired on RTE1 on September 2, 2018 and BBC2 on September 3 and is still available on the BBC iPlayer and the RTE Player).

(Dan McGinn is a film and television critic whose blog They’ll Love It In Pomona reviews the cream of the latest cinema releases and TV dramas)

Dan McGinn is a journalist who was previously the Ireland Political Editor and Ireland Deputy Editor of the Press Association and has worked for the Irish News, Belfast Telegraph and other publications and for TV and radio. He currently works in public affairs and is also a film and television critic with his own blog,  They’ll Love It In Pomona covering the latest cinema releases.