INTERVIEW With Martha and Mary, Richard Curtis wields his pen for a cause, without compromising on his desire to make the audience laugh
Richard Curtis knows the business of comedy. Four Weddings And A Funeral made us scream with laughter as did Blackadder and Mr. Bean .Then again in his directorial debut, Love Actually he brought good tidings, warmth, great laughs and some sadness.
Richard Curtis is breaking out of the mould of being one of Britain’s funniest writers with his film Martha And Mary which he made for his charity organisation Comic Relief. He brings together a stellar cast to support his fight against malaria in Ethiopia. Written by Curtis and directed by Philip Noyce, Mary and Martha is the story of two women from different backgrounds who are brought together under extreme circumstances. Hillary Swank plays Mary, an American interior designer who takes her little boy on an extended trip to Africa, and Brenda Blethyn as Martha is an English housewife whose son heads to Africa as a volunteer. When both of their sons contract malaria, their lives change forever as they forge a deep friendship and embark on a journey of self-discovery to Africa, dedicating themselves to the cause of malaria prevention.
Curtis’ own fight against malaria began in 1985 when he visited Ethiopia and was witness to the country’s famine and poverty. “It was after this trip that I started Comic Relief. I remember coming home from Ethiopia and being absolutely startled at the complete disinterest of everyone I knew in what I’d experienced. I’d just seen hut after hut of dying children and had all these photographs but I couldn’t hold my friends’ attention.” At first, all he wanted was to raise money, “But I’m a great believer in protest and the difference it can make. I think it’s all our jobs to make our governments look at the bigger issues as well as the immediate ones.”
So, instead of a long, boring, technical record, he wrote a story that he hoped would draw the attention to the serious issue and make the world laugh. “The business of writing is the same. In Four Weddings And A Funeral I took situations and wanted to see just how funny I could make it and with Mary And Martha I was trying to make it more emotional.”
Curtis has now just wrapped up About Time with Rachel MacAdams, a film about time travel, family and friendships.
CATHERINE RHEA ROY