‘Mary and Martha’ tackles malaria

Noyce pic stars Swank, Blethyn

LONDON — Hilary Swank and Brenda Blethyn are to star in “Mary and Martha,” a 90-minute telepic commissioned by the BBC, written by Richard Curtis and made by Working Title Television and HBO.

Helmed by Phillip Noyce, story focuses on Mary (Swank) and Martha (Blethyn), an American and a Brit who have little in common apart from the fact that both had sons who died of malaria. Mary took her young son, George, to Africa, promising adventure, where he contracts the disease, while Martha’s son, Ben, dies while working as a volunteer in Mozambique.

Mary returns to America and begins a one-woman campaign to raise awareness of the disease while Martha volunteers at the orphanage where Ben worked.

The film will be shown in the U.K. in the run-up to the BBC-backed charity event Red Nose Day in March that raises coin for the developing world.

Curtis, co-founder of Comic Relief, which organizes Red Nose Day, said, “I’ve always wanted to write a film about the fact that when you have children, there’s always the possibility of extreme joy and extreme sorrow.

“And over the years working with Comic Relief, I have come across the tragedy of the startling number of lives taken by malaria every year.

“This film gives me a chance to write about that too, as well as working with a team of people I hugely admire, Brenda Blethyn, Hilary Swank and the great Australian director Phillip Noyce.”

Blethyn described the story as one of “courage, dignity and humor” where two very different women join together “to make the world a better place.”

Filming bowed this week and is taking place in the U.S. and South Africa.

Pic was ordered up by Ben Stephenson, controller of BBC drama commissioning, and BBC1 controller Danny Cohen.

Exec producers are Juliette Howell, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Liza Chasin for Working Title Television and Lucy Richer for the BBC.

The producers are Genevieve Hofmeyr and Hilary Bevan Jones.

NBCUniversal is handling international distribution.