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Pat and Margaret (1994)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Pat and Margaret (1994)
For Screen One, BBC1, tx. 11/9/1994
85 minutes, colour
DirectorGavin Millar
ProducerRuth Caleb
ScreenplayVictoria Wood
PhotographyJohn Daly
MusicColin Towns

Cast: Victoria Wood (Margaret Mottershead); Julie Walters (Patricia 'Pat' Bedford); Celia Imrie (Claire); Don Henderson (Billy); Deborah Grant (Stella); Duncan Preston (Jim); Thora Hird (Jim's mum)

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Two sisters, one a waitress in a motorway service station, the other a rich and successful US soap star, are reunited on popular TV show Magic Moments after 27 years apart.

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Victoria Wood's first full-length drama since Happy Since I Met You (ITV, tx. 9/8/1981), now with the rather higher production values of the BBC's Screen One strand (1989-98), was a poignant tale of two worlds colliding and her most ambitious, rounded and mature work to date.

For motorway services waitress Margaret Mottershead, re-acquaintance with her long-lost sister opens up a world of luxury beyond her imagining - plush hotels with pot-pourri in the bathrooms, pillows that make her own "look like cream crackers". But Pat - now Patricia Bedford, star of top American soap Glamor - is mortified at Margaret's unwelcome reappearance. The revelation of her humble origins threatens the carefully-constructed fa├žade of Pat's star persona: "I'm Valerie, Lady Charleson. I'm Knightsbridge, I'm grooming, I'm camisoles. I can't be seen to have a blood relative with a Lancashire accent and a perm you could go trick-or-treating in."

Pat, however, is being pursued by dirt-digging journalist Stella, on a mission "to expose the ignorant little tart behind the veneer", and when it emerges that Stella is on the trail of their estranged mother, selfish trollop Vera, the two sisters head for Lancashire to stop Vera doing any further damage. Margaret, meanwhile, finds that her brush with the tabloids is driving a wedge between her and her colleagues and imperilling her relationship with her boyfriend, illiterate lavatory attendant Jim.

A jetsetting star in the Joan Collins mould, with an exercise video and a new diet book to promote, Pat initially appears a cold, egotistical monster. But as the sisters' Lancashire odyssey develops, it becomes clear that she has good reason to bury her past. A single mother at 15, Pat was kicked out at by her unfeeling prostitute mother, and her selfish drive flows directly from her loveless childhood. United in their bitterness, Pat and Margaret finally track down Vera - a one-time pools millionaire and fraudster now entertaining the bailiffs - but find her unrepentant. "You ought to be thanking me for making you hard inside," she tells Pat, "that's what kept you going."

Wood had been growing steadily in critical estimation since her first TV play, Talent (ITV, tx. 5/8/1979), but the rapturously received Pat and Margaret drew comparisons with Alan Bennett. She certainly shares Bennett's gift for characterisation and his ear for comic but natural dialogue - and there's a priceless cameo from Bennett favourite Thora Hird as Jim's domineering mother.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. A Magic Moment (3:38)
2. Bye-bye motorway, hello LA (1:31)
3. Vera (2:32)
4. Revelations (3:47)
Hird, Thora (1911-2003)
Imrie, Celia (1952-)
Walters, Julie (1950-)
Wood, Victoria (1953-)