Mo (2010)



Director:     .

Starring:     Julie Walters (Mo Mowlam), Emma Cambridge (Ellen), David Haig (Jon Norton), Lucy Boynton (Henrietta Norton), Tony Maudsley (Peter Kilfoyle), Gary Lewis (Adam Ingram), Rebekah Staton (Kate), Steven Mackintosh (Peter Mandelson), Stella Gonet (Dr Susi Strang), Toby Jones (Dr. Mark Glaser), Cathy White (Radiographer), Katie Cecil (Jo), Helena Bereen (Elderly Woman), Adrian Dunbar (David Trimble), Billy Clarke (Harold Gracey).

Made for TV movie.

Labor politician Mo Mowlam serves as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and signs the Good Friday Peace Agreement April 10, 1998 on Good Friday


Spoiler Warning:  whole summary and curse words spelled out. 

This is a drama based on true events. 

Mo overflows with energy.  She acts bigger than life.   She curses a lot and jokes around about sex, among other things. 

Bad news comes over on the television.  A bomb exploded around 11:20 a.m. in Manchester, Britain.  Mo is disturbed by the images of destruction on the television.  She gets a call from Labor Politician Tony Blair.  They speak of political stalemate in Northern Ireland until after the elections.

Tony harshly criticizes the present Prime Minister, John Major (in office 28 November 1990  19 June 1997; preceded by Margaret Thatcher). 

A female doctor talks with Mo and notices that her right hand is shaking.  She has her come to the hospital to check it out.

Mo calls Jon Norton, her husband, from Charring Cross Hospital.  She asks him to come down to the hospital.

Jon and Mo go into see the male doctor, Mark Glaser.  She has a tumor in the left front lobe of her brain.  And it's malignant.  It's an astrocytoma.  The average survival rate is from two to three years.  Mo takes the news stoically and wants to start the treatments immediately, stressing that it must all be over before the next election.  Her husband seems more upset than Mo, who says that she's not going to let the illness beat her.  She tells Jon that they both have to believe that.  Jon thinks about it and agrees saying that they will beat it together. 

Her treatment begins and so do the side-effects, such as vomiting.  The doctor warns her that there will be weight gain and hair loss.  He also tells her that she should at least tell her boss, Tony, about her condition.  So Mo calls Tony, but says the brain tumor is benign and nothing to worry about really. 

Mo's hair starts falling out and it shakes her confidence somewhat.  Her husband comes back from a business trip to Bahrain (a small island country situated near the western shores of the Persian Gulf;  an archipelago with Bahrain Island, the largest land mass, at 55 km (34 mi) long by 18 km (11 mi) wide and Saudi Arabia to its west, connected to Bahrain by the King Fahd Causeway, and Iran lies 200 km (124 mi) to the north across the Persian Gulf.)  Jon acts as if it's no big deal to him. 

The Prime Minister announces that a general election will be held on May 1. 

Mo gets criticized in the press about putting on a few pounds.  Mo is worried that the press will sniff out the real sources of the weight gain.  And she is right for soon the press is talking about the brave Mo and her brain tumor, but she was wrong about their attitude to it.  The media makes a hero out of Mo.  That brings a smile to Mo's face for sure. 

Tony Blair becomes the new Prime Minister.  And Mo is headed to Northern Ireland. 

Mo, with her aide Adam, are held-up in a car in Northern Ireland.  When their car is bogged down a bit in the traffic, Mo gets out of the car and starts talking with the Catholic people of Northern Ireland.  The people are very receptive to Mo.  They hope she can help the dire political situation there.

The family comes to be with Mo, who is very happy to see them.  She welcomes them to Hillsborough. 

Things are going relatively well in Northern Ireland.  The Loyalists have called a ceasefire; the Irish Government is behind them; and so is President Bill Clinton. 

A Mr. Trimble comes to speak with Mo and Adam.  He represents the Protestants and says that the political party Sinn Fein have not delivered an IRA ceasefire nor are they giving any indication that they are willing to disarm.  Mo says they will try to get Sinn Fein to disarm during negotiations.  Trimble says that position is "staggeringly naive".  Trimble is so critical of Mo and the Labor Party that she throws her legs far apart, putting the stress on her groin area, and Mr. Trimble is totally thrown off-balance.  Adam and she later have a good laugh at the discomfort of Mr. Trimble, that is until Mo informs Adam that he will be negotiating with what Adam calls the "terrorists". 

The Protestants want to walk part of the way through the Catholic community, which may lead to violence.  Mo goes to speak to the Protestants.  She gets a very cold reception indeed.  They boo and jeer at her even when she tries to be conciliatory toward them.  She says that no one disputes the right of the Protestants to march from Portadown to Drumcree Church on July 6.  She just asks them not to march though the Catholic community.  "Would it really be the end of the world if that small part of your march was rerouted?"  Ah, but there are a lot of haters in the group of Protestants. 

Now Mo goes to meet with the spokesman for the Garvaghy Road residents, the Catholic part of the planned march on July 6.  The former IRA member says the town is going to blow up if the march is not rerouted.  Mo says she will not give in to black mail from either side. 

Mo is extremely upset when she learns that the chief constable is letting the Protestants march in the Catholic areas.

Mo gets more family visits, this time from her mother and sister Jean. 

Mo gets an update over the phone on the march.  The security forces escorted the marchers down Garvaghy Road.  A riot developed and plastic bullets were fired. 

She gets a call from Bill Clinton.  She tells him that it seems that Sinn Fein is getting close to calling for a ceasefire, but she wants Bill to speak personally to the Sinn Fein leaders and tell them that if they don't come through this time, the US will not only cut off all aid to them, but will also cut of the leaders' balls. 

Mo has to talk to the doctors about her health.  One of the doctors says the tumor is in abeyance, but that doesn't mean the tumor has gone away.  And the tumor still has the potential for much cognitive impairment.  The final decision is that Dr. Glaser should keep on with his close monitoring of his patient Mo. 

The IRA agrees to a ceasefire.  Tony Blair telephones Mo to tell her.  This makes Mo extremely happy. 

For the first time in 80 years, Britain will negotiate with Irish Republican leaders.  In private, Mo and Senator George Mitchell of the Unites States meets with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness of the IRA.  Things get off to a shaky start, so Mo decides to use her usual shock techniques.  This time she takes off her wig, showing her baldness in front, along with her thinning hair.  This shocks the IRA fellows and engenders sympathy for Mo's situation. She is able to set a deadline for the accomplishments of their negotiations.

In the Maze prison the Republican prisoners broke into the Loyalist compound and shot one of their enemies, namely Billy Wright.  This could mean the end of the Loyalist ceasefire.  So Mo goes to Maze prison.  She goes to speak to the Loyalists prisoners.  The prisoners say that they are afraid that Mo and Britain will pull Northern Ireland out of the Union.  Very firmly, Mo says:  "Categorically not . . ."  The Republic of Ireland will renounce all territorial claim on Northern Ireland, which will remain part of the United Kingdom for as long as the majority here want it to.  "But everyone will have to make painful compromises. . . . But the prize is peace." 

On the television, they talk about how Mo Mowlam has emerged a winner.  She shares her joy with her husband. 

Mo goes to officiate and cut the ribbon for the official opening of Struell Lodge where they help the disabled. The young people at the Lodge have various problems.  A young man named Kevin goes up to say hello to Mo and says that he has seen Mo on television.  They talk further and Kevin asks her to come see "us" again.  Mo promises she will. 

David Trimble tells Mo that Tony Blair has asked him to come to Hillsborough to see him.  This is news to Mo.  And she gets another shock.  It's a one-on-one meeting with Blair.  Mo says she's the one running these negotiations.  Trimble, with some self-satisfaction, replies:  "You were."

The urgency is that the deadline date is coming up very soon.  Blair arrives in Northern Ireland. 

Mo talks to her husband and says that fellow Trimble is a bastard. 

Gerry and Martin confront Mo and ask why don't they have access to the Prime Minister as does the other side?   She acts very cavalier and says that if they want to see the Prime Minister, they must speak up and ask for a meeting with the Prime Minister.

The bigot Reverend Ian Paisley walks out of the talks.  He tells his people:  "There's no surrender here!"

The result of the talks becomes known as the Good Friday Agreement for peace in Ireland.  Blair speaks out and thanks those who helped with the negotiations.  And, he especially singles out Mo for recognition.  Mo receives a standing ovation in the theater.  Later her husband teases her, saying:  "You're such a star!"  One of her aides, Kilfoyle, comments that maybe she's now too big of a star.  Tony is not going to like it that Mo "upstaged" him.  This comment worries Mo that just maybe Blair will feel threatened by this.  He did say in his speech that Mo has been attracting Diana-like crowds for some time now. 

Trimble has a confrontation with Mo over the issue of the IRA still laying claim to the right to have their own weapons.  He accuses her of having always favored the "green" over the "orange".   He really doesn't like her. 

So Mo speaks with Gerry and Martin to get them to be conciliatory on this issue, because it's largely just a symbolic issue.  She tells the two men that if they won't cooperate, Trimble's supporters will go to Paisley.  The men say they will deal with anyone they have to deal with.  Mo gets really angry and calls Martin a bastard.  Martin objects to the insult, but Mo says he is a bastard and walks out of the meeting. 

Mo takes a pregnancy tests and finds out that she is pregnant.  She goes to see her doctor.  He tells her that she is not pregnant.  She is very crestfallen, but she takes it philosophically saying that she can get on and finish the job in Ireland now. 

Mo learns via the newspapers that she has been moved to Health Secretary in a Blair reshuffle.  Kilfoyle tells Mo that Blair has become a real disappointment and Labor may be looking for a replacement for Blair and that person could be Mo.  Mo is shocked at the idea, but her husband tells her he thinks Kilfoyle is right about Mo becoming the next leader.  Mo kind of likes the idea. 

One thing for sure is that Mo is furious about the way Blair and the others are treating her.  She sees a colleague, Mandelson, speaking with her enemy Trimble and goes after him in a verbal thrashing with a very nasty tone and complete with insults, such as calling the man a cunt.  She says the guy is trying to take her job from her.  The confrontation is really nasty and the colleague warns her that if she keeps carrying on like this, people are going to wonder if there's something wrong with Mo.  He leaves. 

It's 18 months after the Good Friday Agreement and there is an upturn in violence in Northern Ireland by paramilitary groups over the continued stalemate over weapons decommissioning. 

Mo mentions the idea of her becoming the next Labor party leader to Adam Ingram, and he, insensitively, laughs at the idea.  He ridicules Kilfoyle and says her husband knows nothing about politics.  In short, he says that idea will never fly.  Mo is hurt by his frankness and she questions his friendship with her.  She says:  "It's true what they say.  If you want a friend in politics, buy a fucking dog."  She walks away from Adam. 

Mo's husband Jon has been retired from the bank.  He now takes up his love of painting.  In the nude he works on one of his paintings.  Mo comes to speak to him.  She tells him that Blair telephoned her and told her that he is replacing her with Mandelson.  Jon goes ballistic over the news.  He is totally outraged by what he sees as an injustice.  He forcefully tells Mo to telephone Tony and tell him to let her finish the job she started in Northern Ireland.  She says she already told Blair that.  It's of no use now and Adam was right that the idea was unthinkable.   And now we learn the real reasons for Jon's anger.  He says that it was the Northern Ireland challenge that made it possible for her to deal with her illness and without it what will happen now?  Mo gives out with a big sigh over the whole situation. 

Mo retires from politics.  She acts likes a trooper, even shaking Mandelson's hand for the press, but in private she is just furious.  She cries and she curses. 

Three years later.  Mo runs into Adam on the street.  They hug each other.  They go for a drink.  She tells Adam that she is giving after dinner speeches, she's got an agony column and is recording a pilot for her own TV chat show.  Adam tells her that Blair was genuinely sorry to see her go, but Mo is still bitter towards Blair:  "He stole my success in Ireland and then he wanted me out of the way because I became a rival."  Adam tells her that's a bunch of crap and Mo says she wishes she could believe that.  And he reminds her that after she left, Mandelson did not succeed, nor did his successor, Reid, crack it.  It's like climbing Mt. Everest.  They did the longest stretch of the climbing, but someone else will reach the summit. 

Mo writes a book of her own.  She does a book signing in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  One of the Loyalist prisoners she visited in Maze prison shows up to get her to sign his copy of her book.  He says Northern Ireland owes her "big time" for what she did for them.  He also gives her one of his paintings, one of a beautiful woman's face.  Mo is touched by his friendly sentiment.

While in Northern Ireland, Mo keeps her promise and returns to see the folks at Struell Lodge.  There she meets those she saw before, and, especially, Kevin, who has a framed photo of Mo on his wall in his room. 

Upon her request, Mo's doctor pays her a visit at home.  She has been having trouble sleeping.  She says she needs something more than just sleeping tablets.  She tells her that her tumor has been arrested, but not eradicated.  It was the radiotherapy that took its toll on Mo's body and mind.  She now learns some things she didn't know about her tumor.  The tumor was there long before Mo even noticed any of the symptoms caused by the problem.  The doctor says it could have been in her brain for more than 20 years.  She now asks the doctor if the symptoms, the disinhibition and the personality change, can go back 20 years?  The doctor says yes.  Mo replies: "So, good old Mo, the Mo that everybody loves, larger-than-life Mo, that it could all be because of the tumor?"  She wonders what part of her personality is really her and what part is the tumor. 

Adam and his wife go to a party in the backyard at Mo's place in Kent.  Mo starts walking by herself up to the house, but she falls on the ground.  Adam, Jean and Jon help pick her up and she must have had an attack caused by her tumor because now she turns on Jean and Adam, insulting them to the core and hurting their feelings.  And then she starts in on herself saying she has lost everything, there is no God and her life has meant nothing.  She tells everyone to just fuck off!

At night Mo tells Jon that she wet the bed.  She tells Jon that she loves him.  He says he loves her too. 

One day Mo falls and hits her head on the step railing.  She is taken to the hospital where she stays.  She is unconscious.  Adam, Jean and Jon visit her.  Adam thanks her for being her.  It is very sentimental. 

"Mo Mowlam never regained consciousness and died on 19th August 2005, aged 55.  Her ashes were scattered in the grounds of Hillsborough Castle."

Bill Clinton said:  "Mo was an integral part of building a peace process in Northern Ireland that has endured for over a decade.  All of us who worked to support peace in Northern Ireland owe her our gratitude."



The whole tempo of the movie is upbeat because the Labor politician Mo is such an outrageous character that you never know what she's going to say or do next.  Julie Walters (as Mo Mowlam) was great in her role as the outspoken woman politician.  And Mo was certainly not all mouth.  As Bill Clinton said, Mo was an integral part of building the peace process that eventually led to a peace agreement in Northern Ireland.  And all of us, not just those who worked on the peace agreement, owe her our gratitude.  She is quite the inspiring character because given only two to three years left to live because of a malignant brain tumor, she made a great deal of progress in getting to the eventual peace agreement.  The film is definitely sad in parts, but you never lose respect for Mo.  Not only a survivor, but a thriver. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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