Over the years, Focus has released films featuring mothers of all types and temperaments. Moms have always been a compelling subject. Since the ancient Greeks first staged dramas, our complex relations with our mothers have made for enthralling entertainment. When those stories involve real people, especially figures who have altered the course of history, the role of mothers becomes even more impactful.
This year for Mother’s Day, we’re focusing on real moms. From a mother learning to accept her son on his own terms to one who gains the courage to embrace her destiny from her own daughter, here are four remarkable stories about moms who rightly deserve to be celebrated this Mother’s Day.
On The Basis of Sex | Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Mimi Leder’s On the Basis of Sex captures the early years of future Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones), especially her time as a young mother juggling family and career. After excelling at Harvard Law School—doing double duty to help her husband Marty (Armie Hammer) with his legal studies when he becomes ill—Ginsburg faced the harsh reality that the legal profession didn’t really want her. While she taught gender discrimination at Rutgers Law School, she had yet to fight it in court. Ultimately her daughter Jane (Cailee Spaeny)—both as a young feminist herself and as a child whose world Ginsburg wanted to make better—inspired the future Justice to enter a courtroom. “Mother-daughter relationships are complicated, and Ruth and Jane are no exception,” noted The Wrap. But the love they had for each other helped make real progress possible. When nominated to the Supreme Court, Ginsburg paid back her own mother: “ I pray that I may be all that she would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve.”
Mary Queen of Scots | Mary
While Josie Rourke’s Mary Queen of Scots paints the famed monarch as a strong woman and strategic leader, it is perhaps as a mother that she left her most enduring mark. On returning to Scotland, Mary (Saoirse Ronan) was closely watched by warring nobles inside her realm and Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) to the south, all wary of what grand ambitions the new ruler might have, especially in terms of ascending to the British throne. As The New York Times points out about the film's political intrigue, “The narrow question that drives the plot has to do with the coexistence of two countries with overlapping royal lines.” Who Mary married and had child with would define both England and Scotland's future. While Mary’s marriage to Lord Darnley (Jack Lowden) ended in disaster, it gave her the one thing she wanted most—a son and heir. Indeed, while Mary was ultimately imprisoned and executed, her life was not in vain. Her son assumed the throne as James I, King of England.
Boy Erased | Nancy Eamons
In Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased, Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) is traumatized when he is forced into a conversion therapy program. While Jared’s parents—a Baptist minister (Russell Crowe) and his wife (Nicole Kidman)—believe this will save their son after he confesses an attraction to other men, his mother is also quick to recognize the torment the program causes Jared. For RogerEbert.com, “Nicole Kidman brings forward Nancy’s inner dilemma as a sweet, religious woman, who eventually leans into her motherly love, intuition and common sense with confidence.” Based on Garrard Conley’s memoir, Boy Erased is ultimately a love letter to Conley’s own mother. At the New York City premiere of the film, Conley explained, “I feel like no matter what, I gave this movie to her. She saved my life."
The Theory of Everything | Jane Hawking
To tell the story of the brilliant astrophysicist Stephen Hawking (played by Eddie Redmayne in an Academy Award®-winning performance), James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything must also recount the heroic life of Jane Hawking (Felicity Jones), the mother and wife who helped make Hawking's achievements possible. As a young man at Cambridge University, Hawking encounters—all within a short period of time—the three things that would define his future: he falls in love with Jane, discovers the focus of his life’s work, and learns he has ALS. As his health deteriorates and his career expands, he turns to Jane to keep the different parts of his life (children, home, career) in orbit. As a wife and mother of three children, Jane sacrifices everything to make that possible. “It’s an exceptional film,” notes The Washington Post. “Not because of its protagonists’ impressive triumphs, but because it honors their struggle.”