Mo: A Story That Needed to be Told
Channel 4 airs Mo this Sunday – a film about the life of former Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam. The politician was known for her frankness and odd behaviour. She is credited as bringing peace to Northern Ireland thanks to the Good Friday Agreement. But what made her remarkable was that she achieved all of this whilst suffering from a malignant brain tumour.
Ironically, the woman who became known for her frankness and honesty was not honest about her medical condition. Her doctor, Mark Glaser, informed her that she had three years to live in 1996. Labour was on the brink of winning the elections and rumour had it Mo was destined for a top Cabinet position. Determined to do her job, she admitted to having radiotherapy for a tumour, but declared it was benign. Famously, she wore a wig and often took it off in the middle of meetings – in keeping with her eccentric personality! After achieving what so many before her could not, she was eventually replaced as Northern Ireland Secretary in 1999 by Peter Mandelson, in a controversial move by Tony Blair. Her health began to decline and she eventually died in 2005, leaving behind her loving husband Jon Norton and two step-children.
Oscar-nominated actress and national treasure, Julie Walters, plays the lead character. She took the role so seriously, she even shaved her head. The transformation is quite amazing. Her walk, her voice and actions all mimic the politician exactly. Most of all, the quality of acting is outstanding – from Julie but also from her fellow cast members. David Haig is brilliant as the devoted husband. Gary Lewis plays Mo’s advisor, Adam Ingram, and impresses in a powerful, tear-jerking scene towards the end when he talks to Mo by her bedside.
The film is a must-see, both for fans of the subject but also for people who know nothing about politics. Mo Mowlam was a key figure in shaping events in Northern Ireland as we know it. Warm and funny, this film shows her life without being sad, sentimental or bogged down in political detail. It tells the story of a shrewd politician who knew how to play the game, but who had a heart of gold and strove to fulfil her objectives with urgency due to the presence of a terminal medical condition. Towards the end, Mo questioned how much of her personality was the tumour and how much was the real her. The truth is, everything was her – tumour and all.