Mary and Martha
Mary and Martha
Directed by Phillip Noyce
Produced by Hilary Bevan Jones
Lisa Bruce
Main cast Hilary Swank
Brenda Blethyn
Country of origin United States of America
Release date March 1, 2013
Running time 90 minutes

Mary and Martha is a 2013 British-American television film starring Hilary Swank and Brenda Blethyn, and directed by Phillip Noyce. Based on a screenplay by Richard Curtis, it was produced by Working Title Television, in association with the BBC and NBCUniversal. The film had its UK premiere on March 1, 2013 on the BBC and premiered in the US on HBO on April 20, 2013.


The film tells the story of two very different women, Mary (Hilary Swank) and Martha (Brenda Blethyn), who both lose their sons to malaria.

Mary is an overly protective American mother who turns out not to be protective enough. After her young son and only child, George (Lux Haney-Jardine), is bullied by classmates, she decides to pull him out of school and take him on an extended trip to Africa because she feels she can give him a better education. While there, he is bitten by a mosquito, contracts malaria, and dies. In the midst of grieving, Mary decides to return to Africa after George's funeral where she meets Martha, a British woman whose grown son, Ben (Sam Claflin),[1] has also just died of the same disease while working at an orphanage in Mozambique. He too was an only child.

The two women turn their grief into action, hoping to thwart the disease, which the World Health Organization estimates killed 660,000 people in 2010, most of them African children. The movie builds to a scene in which the women testify before a Congressional subcommittee. In the process, Mary and Martha come to realize that the losses experienced by two comfortable white Western households are atypical, and that the real impact of malaria is on parts of the world that few people in their circles know or care about.


  • Hilary Swank as Mary
  • Brenda Blethyn as Martha
  • Lux Haney-Jardine as George
  • Frank Grillo as Peter
  • Bongo Mbutuma as Pumelele
  • Nokuthula Ledwaba as Micaela
  • Sam Claflin as Ben
  • James Woods as Tom
  • Ian Redford as Charles
  • Kagiso Lediga as Kumi
  • Sifiso Sihlangu as Little Paul
  • Zethu Dlomo as Patience
  • Katleho Ramaphakela as African Doctor
  • Beatrice Miller as Funeral Singer
  • Mangaliso Ngema as Mozambican Doctor
  • Melissa Ponzio as Alice
  • Sean O'Bryan as Senator
  • Stephanie Faracy as Head of Committee
  • Elaine Nalee as Senator's Secretary
  • Simone White as Tracy
  • Chandler McIntyre as Hannah
  • Stephen Jennings as Principal
  • Adam Neill as Teacher
  • Peter Jurasik as Pastor
  • Dominika Jablonska as Pilates Teacher
  • Theopain Mofokeng as Extra


Upon its broadcast, the film received positive reviews from critics. Brian Lowry from Variety felt that "Mary and Martha harks back to when the service was content to tell great little stories — often with an agenda — that might not have been commercial enough to find a home elsewhere [...] Admittedly, Curtis has a rather facile view of how good can be accomplished, but in a cynical age, there’s something refreshing about old-fashioned idealism, even if the movie hinges on well-intentioned Westerners bringing relief to the Third World. Part of that has to do with the intensely personal approach to the story, and the palpable anguish Swank and Blethyn convey."[2] Neil Genzlinger, writer for The New York Times, wrote that "this movie grabs for every heartstring in sight" and added, "also detracting from the story is that the movie has too much Mary and not enough Martha. So much effort goes into setting up Ms. Swank’s somewhat annoying character for a fall that Ms. Blethyn’s more interesting character is given short shrift. But the scenes in which the two actresses are together have some real power."[3]

Critical with the film, The A.V. Club's Simon Abrams wrote that "at first, the off-the-cuff insensitivity that Mary and Martha's characters persistently exhibit seems benign enough. Mary and Martha is, after all, a made-for-TV melodrama about two mothers that bond after their respective sons die from malaria, and grief does sometimes manifest itself in strange ways. Screenwriter Richard Curtis and director Phillip Noyce do their best to, in the words of Hilary Swank’s Mary, "tell you how it feels to have a personal involvement with malaria." But while Curtis makes a point of making characters show their grief by gingerly stepping on each other’s toes, Mary and Martha is more of a product of unwitting creative insensitivity than an apt reflection of it."[4]


  1. ^Keveney, Bill (April 18, 2013). "Malaria is the tragedy of HBO's 'Mary and Martha'". USA Today.
  2. ^Lowry, Brian (15 April 2013). "Review: "TV Reviews: HBO’s ‘Mary and Martha,’ Lifetime’s ‘Call Me Crazy’"". Variety. Retrieved 30 April 2013.
  3. ^Genzlinger, Neil (19 April 2013). "Bereaved and Incited by Malaria". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 April 2013.
  4. ^Abrams, Simon (20 April 2013). "Other Shows". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 30 April 2013.

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