Peter Bowker's drama The A Word is back for a second series and the Hughes family, who are learning to accept Joe's autism diagnosis, are faced with a whole host of new challenges. Reprising the role of mum Alison, Morven Christie tells us about her emotional journey on the BBC One drama.
It's two years on and Alison's relationship with Joe has turned a corner - is it fair to say she's more celebratory of the fact he's 'different'?
Yeah. Alison, as a person, is just a very committed individual to whatever it is that she's committed to at that time, and in series one there just seemed to be this rebellion in her that was like 'If I fight this hard enough, I will make it OK'.
Now that commitment has gone into acceptance and surrounding herself with a community that understands her and will help her and support and help her support Joe. She's finding the joy in him and taking his lead, if you like. And that was really lovely for me to play, just as a contrast. I think that's such a truthful journey to go on, from that almost fighting against something to going 'No, look, this can be a wonderful path'. So, yeah, she's in quite a different place this year.
Viewers will see her make quite a powerful speech to the other school parents in episode one.
It's such an amazing speech. It encapsulated almost her world view and a manifesto for children who are different and she's got her struggles with stuff, but they're more like personal struggles within her relationship now. I think she's found a purpose she didn't have before.
How emotional is it to film some of the more poignant sequences?
It takes over. (There's a) scene where we're doing role play and also a scene where we sit with Joe on the sofa and talk to him about his autism, and both of those scenes, for me personally, something happened that I wasn't in control of. I just think there is something just massively impactful and, reading it, I remember when I first read episode one, having a really emotional response to it and emailing Pete and saying 'It's golden'.
But there's something that when you actually hear those words come out ... And I think because we all own these characters so deeply now, so Lee saying Paul's words is so truthful and Max saying Joe's words is so truthful, that it just feels really real and genuine. So they can be really overwhelming to shoot, but cathartic too.
You and Lee (Ingleby), who plays Joe's Dad Paul, seem to have a great bond when you're shooting such scenes.
They come quite easily with me and Lee. We have a sort of natural rhythm; it's weird because you read them on the page and you think 'Oh, this is going to be deep, this is going to be a tough one' and then you actually sit down and say it and actually it's really simple. The writing is always really clear and just by Max saying words and Max's reaction to things, you can't fail to be moved, so then it just becomes about controlling your own natural responses to what he's doing.
Have you taken more of an interest in austism since working on the show?
I think you can't help doing that because even if I wasn't taking an interest in it on a personal level, the show opens up a dialogue that people want to have with us whether we're chasing it or not. For me, personally, I didn't research anything particular for series one because Alison is like 'What?' So it wasn't helpful for me.
Whereas this year I emailed Pete and was like 'OK, what do I read?' And he gave me a list of books, so I'm lot more knowledgeable about it now. But I feel like something really important happened when the (first) series went out, which was that something that was 'othered' became mainstream. There was a real acknowledgement from the autism community and a gratitude. It's one child's story, but having that in the mainstream was a big deal.
What kind of reaction did you receive?
I have a friend whose little boy is on the spectrum, and when we were getting ready to do series one - he was quite small, he'd just turned four - I had quite a lot of conversations with her. She sent me a message a while ago - she lives in Glasgow - and her and her husband and her little boy had been in London and they'd been on the Tube, and he wears headphones or ear defenders sometimes, and she said 'People just smile at us now'. And the impact of that for her, that was transformative. Of course there's a breadth of response and some people felt negatively about it. I certainly received some that were like 'Mums aren't like that'.
Do you think viewers like seeing a drama that is funny and moving rather than crime-focused?
Exactly. It has so much warmth and people really want that. I feel like it came at a time where there wasn't that much love in drama and The A Word is full of love. And I think there is a thing where your personal perspective magnifies things - you'll see things, like I know that I see things in dramas that are bigger to me because of my personal perspective, but everyone's different and everyone has seen different things.
The A Word returns to BBC One on Tuesday November 7 at 9pm.
Don't miss an episode on BT TV - catch up via the BBC iPlayer app.
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