‘The Good Mothers’ Review: An Emotional Portrayal Of ‘Ndrangheta Women And The Hardships They Faced

Mafia families of Italy are something many are aware of thanks to the excellent pop culture phenomenon that is “The Godfather” movies by Francis Ford Coppola. It is hard to look away from the way they lead their family and make an example of how a business should be run. Though there is a lot of glorification of the kind of lifestyle the men and women from those families lead, which often makes it look cool and paints it to be something for the younger generation from around the world to aspire to. Not many are aware of the realities associated with the mafias of Italy and how the people live under them. “The Good Mothers,” directed by Julian Jarrod and Elisa Amoruso and written for the screen by Stephen Butchard, is a Hulu original miniseries adapted from the same-titled novel by Alex Perry. The show throws us right into the middle of the lives of the women from the ‘Ndrangheta mafia and how their life has been for generations. Will any of them try to break away from their family?

“The Good Mothers” begins with public prosecutor Anna Colace trying to connect the dots by placing pictures of various middle-aged women and how they are connected to specific mafia families. The show takes us back to Lea Garofalo wanting her daughter, Denise Cosco, to meet her estranged father after many years. Her father, Carlo Cosco, was in jail for many years, and since he was out, he has shown interest in wanting to meet his daughter. There is a history here between Carlo and his estranged wife Leo. The man belonged to the infamous ‘Ndrangheta mafia, who are known for being ruthless when it comes to their business, disloyalty, and controlling the lives of their women. The ‘Ndrangheta mafia belong to the Italian Calabria region and are considered to be the richest crime syndicate. They have connections all over Europe and South America. Carlo’s family belongs to the same syndicate where the women of the family are constantly under scrutiny and control. Unable to handle the pressures of being a woman serving his family, Leo chose to become a police witness, and she and her daughter Denise were put under a witness protection program. The witness protection program was rendered useless once Carlo was behind bars, and ever since, Leo and Denise have been on the run from Carlo’s family. The ‘Ndrangheta mafia is known for killing the women of their families if they betray them. The term ‘betray’ has a broader meaning, where anything women do that oversteps the boundaries set by the family results in their deaths, and the families don’t even repent of the act of crime that they committed.

Leo chose to step away from the family and become a police witness so that it would be easier for her and other women like her to seek freedom from their families. Leo’s plan has not worked out as planned all this time. Seventeen years later, Carlo is ready to forgive Leo if she lets him meet their daughter, to which Leo agrees. The meeting happens in Milan, where Carlo’s family also lives. After having a good time with his daughter, he intends to spend some alone time with his estranged wife, Leo. Leo agrees to this, and she is hoping Carlo has finally forgiven her. Denise is waiting for her mother to return when Carlo comes back alone and claims that her mother left Denise with him and ran away from the responsibilities of taking care of her daughter. Though Denise finds it hard to believe her mother would abandon her in this manner, she is forced to believe her father’s version of the story. Denise is hoping her mother will return, and thus begins her journey to find out the history of her paternal and maternal families and slowly uncover the truth behind her father’s shady past and her connection to the ‘Ndrangheta mafia.

Giuseppina Pesce, another woman from another family of the ‘Ndrangheta mafia, is helping her father and brother build a strong drug ring in the Calabria region while her parents and her siblings don’t give her enough respect in the family. Her opinion has no value, and she has no say in the final decision-making for the business. Giuseppina was married at a young age, and her husband is now in jail. Giuseppina is a mother to three kids whom she loves more than her life. Fed up with what she is going through, she has no solution in hand to tackle the rampant patriarchy that has affected her life from a very young age. Will Giuseppina find a way out? Just like Giuseppina, her close friend Maria Concetta Cacciola belongs to a similar mafia family belonging to the ‘Ndrangheta mafia, and she is permanently under fire from her mother and father for stepping outside the line of honor. Maria’s husband is also in jail; she has no right over how to lead her life thanks to an overly patriarchal mother and father who control her life as much as they can. Maria yearns for a life without her family burdening her with moral value lessons, and she intends to break away from it, but she doesn’t know how. All three families have one thing in common: All are powerful families where the women have no rights or agency over their minds and bodies. Will these women find a way out of these shackles? Will someone rescue them from the horrors they have faced?

Prosecutor Anna Colace wants to find out what happened to Leo Garofalo and bring down the entire ‘Ndrangheta mafia syndicate. It is hard to implicate the mafia in this picture because no one is willing to speak up against them, fearing their brutal retribution. Anna comes up with an elaborate plan to bring the oppressed women of the family to their side. The women know the incomings and outgoings of all the crimes their families have committed, which will include crimes against themselves. Anna intends to use their anger to extract as much information as possible and bring those women under the witness protection program to save them from their awful families. The question remains: will the women get ready to speak up against their own families?

“The Good Mothers” takes the viewers right into the story and through a side of Italy that many of us are not used to seeing in mainstream culture. There are no picturesque mountains and beaches where people would just talk deeply about love and life. Here, the creators and writers want us to see a murkier version of Italy, which many around the world aren’t familiar with. The mafia families are too strong for their own good, and the women are oppressed to the point of living a robotic life where the buttons are pressed by the male members of the family. The mothers, too, do not have much choice but to be in sync with the father’s wants for their daughter. The families are strongly connected to crime syndicates around the world, and the women find themselves under the thumbs of these highly patriarchal families, which has caused generational trauma.

All of these and more are covered in depth by the makers in the six episodic miniseries. There is no stone left unturned in showcasing the awful lives these women must lead, and by the end of the day, it’s clear women must rely on themselves to be saved. There’s no prince charming here because no men from the ‘Ndrangheta mafia are willing to help the women of their families. They are brainwashed from a young age to control their women and make sure they stay in line. The elderly women, too, do not come in support of the young girls and women because none of them were given the luxury of freedom, so why should this generation gain that? This is the narrative being used from the start till the end, and at no point does it feel repetitive, as each time there is a new layer added to it. The women here help women, but there are cases of women going against women as well.

The direction is smooth when the writers take us into the lives of these people and make us understand the pain of being inside the constant air-tight container, which is their family, and how they are trying hard to break away from it. It is deeply disturbing to watch the pain women have endured from their own families. It is easily understood that sometimes families end up leaving deep scars. One of the women chooses to finally step away from the toxicity, which works in her favor, but some characters succumb to familial pressure and end up paying a lot for it. This story, which is set in the late 2000s, paints a picture of a society that has not evolved at all. Julian Jarrold and Elisa Amoruso do a fantastic job of taking the audience through the plethora of emotions that women go through to finally unlearn the fact that families are toxic too. The screenplay by Stephen Butchard lets us understand why it is important to look at our families as human beings and not as something to be perfect and functional. The conversations feel too real and personal. The constant denial of problems ever existing and relying on the age old traditions and customs to justify their actions feels like something from the pages of our lives as well. Though some finally pay for the crimes they committed, many are still out there roaming scot-free. Stephen has done an excellent job of putting across the pain of a woman and the pressure she is under from a very young age. At no point do women come across as victims or use the victim card to justify their situation. They know it is generational brainwashing, and they intend to step away from it.

“The Good Mothers” relies heavily on the story, screenplay, and direction for the entire show, which is based on true stories of women that are mentioned in the show and original literature as well. These women put up with tons of agony and broke away from the generational trauma. The camerawork by Martina Cocco, Ferren Parades, and Vittorio Omodei Zorini takes us through the not-so-picturesque side of Italy. There is no exquisite shot of wine, pasta, or vineyards. There are close-knit families living in small spaces, which is a representation of what a woman feels inside those homes. Extremely claustrophobic. The performances of the actresses carried the entire narrative on their shoulders and made the entire experience emotional. Gaia Girace plays Denise Cosco, the soul of “The Good Mothers” series, while she tries to understand how she fits into the mafia family to which she has been introduced. She is the only female character who dares to stand up to the men of her family; Valentina Bellè as Giuseppina Pesce is excellent as the vulnerable woman who has to do the right thing for herself eventually. The entire show could have collapsed like a house of cards if the casting was not done right.

To say “The Good Mothers” is a fantastic miniseries is an understatement here because the makers have nailed it when it comes to every department in the show. It is a must-watch because the show at no point becomes preachy but wants to show us what our society is capable of. The women who are put on pedestals for bringing lives into this world and being of the same gender are put through plenty of obstacles just to be able to live life the normal way. Go ahead and give your time to “The Good Mothers.” 


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Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan is a cinema enthusiast, and a part time film blogger. An ex public relations executive, films has been a major part of her life since the day she watched The Godfather – Part 1. If you ask her, cinema is reality. Cinema is an escape route. Cinema is time traveling. Cinema is entertainment. Smriti enjoys reading about cinema, she loves to know about cinema and finding out trivia of films and television shows, and from time to time indulges in fan theories.

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