Hilary Swank and Brenda Blethyn in Mary & Martha
In two weeks, Comic Relief celebrates its 25th anniversary with the biggest ever Red Nose Day. They’ve got loads planned for the night – including comedy sketches from the cast of Fresh Meat, Jessie J shaving her hair off for charity, and Ricky Gervais bringing back David Brent for a one-off special of The Office.
Ahead of that, BBC1 is screening a special film tonight, made to tie in with Comic Relief.
Mary & Martha, written by Love Actually director Richard Curtis, stars the amazing Hilary Swank as a privileged American woman called Mary and our own national treasure Brenda Blethyn as working class Brit Martha – two women with little in common who are brought together through the loss of a child to Malaria. Empowered by their friendship, they form a partnership that takes them from their meeting in a remote part of Mozambique all the way to Washington.
A child dies every minute from Malaria – a preventable disease – with 90% of these deaths occurring in Africa. The issue has been important to Curtis ever since he visited Ethiopia in 1985. “I remember coming home from Ethiopia and being absolutely startled at the complete disinterest of everyone I knew in what I’d experienced," he told The Telegraph. "I’d just seen hut after hut of dying children and had all these photographs but I couldn’t hold my friends’ attention.”
It’s not the first time Curtis has made a film for a good cause. His 2005 film The Girl in the Cafe was set against the backdrop of a G8 summit as part the Make Poverty History campaign.
Mary & Martha - which is also being shown in the US on HBO - is set in a sweltering Mozambique, but was filmed in South Africa during the winter. "It’s supposed to look like it’s boiling hot, so Hilary and I were in little shirts," Brenda Blethyn said in a recent interview. "You can probably see us shivering. All you could hear was the director saying: “Make-up! More sweat on Martha!”
Mary & Martha is on BBC1 tonight at 8.30pm and will then be on BBC iplayer. To find out more about Malaria visit www.malarianomore.org.uk