New era beckons
Mandy McElhinney faces changing times in Love Child
McElhinney: “On the first day where Joan and Matron had words this season, the whole crew went, ‘ Yes, we’re back’, because they love it when we fight.”
It’s 1972 and the times they are a changin’ for the cast of Love Child.
One character who is really feeling this era of adjustment is Matron Frances Bolton, the woman presiding over Stanton House – the home for unwed mothers where so much of Love
Child’s action has taken place. This is a year of political change and upheaval in Australia as Gough Whitlam is about to be voted in, heralding an era of free education and free thinking, and Matron’s stable world is getting rocked.
“Most people, regardless of when they’re born, will know the impact that Gough Whitlam had on the country. You don’t get much more of a resounding cry than Labor getting in, voted by long- haired men, women burning their bras, so Matron is being told fairly strongly, ‘ Your era is over’,” according to Mandy McElhinney, the actress who plays Matron.
“The conservatism and the post- war institutionalised way of thinking is over. People are broadening their horizons and these revolutionaries, the universities, they’re the ones that are going to rule the world and you’d better either shape up or ship out.”
This change in the air offers a new challenge for McElhinney. The actress says she has modelled Matron on her nana – her resilience and pragmatism have been aspects of Matron’s that she’s long admired and tried to bring into her own life.
So much of that attitude, McElhinney reflects, came from her experience of living through a war, something so many women of that generation had to learn to survive through.
“The things they went through, I don’t think we have any concept of going through a war and seeing all the young men around you that you know die,” she says.
“Matron’s generation didn’t waste anything, they took care of things. They had the same pair of shoes and they polished them and took care of them, and they would mend their clothes, which is now seen as a little bit of a hipster kind of thing. They didn’t come from this consumerist and self- obsessed culture. She’s really converted me.”
But it’s proving difficult this season for Matron to hang on to that post- war attitude as the world is shifting around her, however she has a friend in new character Father Ross, played by Matt Day.
“Matron has never really had a confidante, someone she says is her equal and someone she can be completely herself with, and it’s really wonderful they’ve developed this character played beautifully by Matt Day, where you see this other side to Matron and see how she is in close personal relationships,” she says.
“I think the reason that she’s connected with him so much is that they’ve both dedicated themselves to their vocations, they’ve both dedicated themselves to a life of serving people, and they’ve sacrificed a lot to do that personally and
they’re coming from a great place. They really understand and respect each other.”
Day is just one of the new actors joining the cast this season including Dan Hamill as Dr Andrew Patterson, Danielle Catanzariti as Elena and Irish popstar Ronan Keating who plays Dr Lawrence Faber.
Keating impressed his new cast members who didn’t know what to expect from the singer.
“As soon as he walked on set he was such a truly good person. As Matron would say, ‘ He’s a well brought up boy’,” McElhinney says.
“He came so prepared, he came with humility but also just got on with it. He was really good, he’s a really good actor.”
It’s exciting for the cast to welcome new members especially when they weren’t even sure when, or if, season four would be going ahead.
“We thought maybe we were filming last year, and it wasn’t until maybe August or September that I found out it wasn’t happening last year and then we just had to wait for another month or two to find out when we were going,” she says.
“Then, as always, as it happens, we’re told, ‘ OK, we’re going ahead and it’s in just a few weeks’.”
This season, the key relationship between Joan and Matron is also facing upheaval.
“Joan is a woman who is taking charge of the new opportunities she has, and Matron is a representative of women’s role before, and the status quo. Matron really does represent the power of conservative British thinking, so her role is to always try to return things to the context that she understands and she fights every single character.
“She’s an adversary of every single character in the show so her role is to be the pebble in someone’s shoe,” McElhinney says.
There’s something about the Joan/ Matron relationship that seems to personify what the women of each generation are facing. It’s such an important relationship in the show that McElhinney says their clashes are celebrated on set.
“On the first day where Joan and Matron had words this season, the whole crew went, ‘ Yes, we’re back’, because they love it when we fight,” McElhinney says.
“I think they have the most wonderful relationship, sometimes mother/ daughter sometimes sisters, and I think they’re more similar than they want to admit. If they could come together they would be an unstoppable force.”
Kindred spirits: Matron Bolton ( Mandy McElhinney) with Father Ross ( Matt Day).