Masterpiece Theatre's "Lost for Words" tells an affecting story of a son caring for his aging mother. 

Mum's the Word

Boomers won't know whether to laugh or cry - and will probably do a little of both - as they watch "Lost for Words" and contemplate what lies ahead in their own lives.

Based on Deric Longden's autobiographical book of the same name, "Lost for Words" is at times riotously funny and at other times, as the title implies, ineffably sad.

Dame Thora Hird and Pete Postlethwaite bear equal responsibility with the author for the fact that the story hits its mark unerringly with every line of dialogue and every moment of silence.

Hird, who at age 88 is one of Britain's best-loved actresses, plays Annie, the author's mother, who seems to be a British version of Marian Lorne (the actress who played Aunt Clara on "Bewitched"). Postlethwaite plays the author, a somber man who is devoted to both his blind wife and his aging mother.

Hird's career spans seven decades, and just last year she won the British version of an Emmy for a one-woman show, "Waiting for the Telegram." Postlethwaite won an Oscar nomination in 1994 for his role in the Irish drama "In the Name of the Father" and he has since been seen in "Amistad" and "Jurassic Park." It's hard to imagine any other two actors in "Lost for Words" - they're both that good.

The drama takes its title from the fact that Annie suffers a series of strokes and begins to have trouble remembering words as the story progresses. The first stroke is minor, but after the second, she begins to imagine that gremlins are sneaking into her house, so she removes the knobs from all the doors, stuffs toilet tissue in the kitchen and bathroom spigots, and uses Scotch tape to block the cracks at the baseboards.

But to the end she defines feisty.

She calls her son Deric one day to tell him there's a hedgehog on her lawn. "Do you suppose it's OK?" she asks.

"I'm 80 miles away, Mum, I don't know. But I thought hedgehogs were nocturnal."

"This one isn't," Annie says. "It's more ... sort of oval."

As might be expected, there's black comedy, too. "Do you want to be buried, Mum, or cremated?"

"Oh, I don't know, Luv. Surprise me."

One of the funniest and most touching scenes comes when Annie decides to sell her house and move around the corner to something smaller. She invites all the prospective buyers to come at the same time, greeting them and serving them tea and cakes. Then she begins her reverse-psychology sales pitch by pointing out all the home's flaws. She even urges each of her "guests" to lie down flat on the floor to see the hairline crack at the base of the fireplace.

In less capable hands, the tribulations of caring for an aging parent could be dismally depressing. But with Hird and Postlethwaite - and Longden's words to guide them - "Lost for Words" is an uplifting, life-affirming story that will stay with you longer than you might expect. Chalk up another winner for PBS-TV's "Masterpiece


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