Sue Johnston is cast as Sean Bean’s mother – 30 years after she played his lover

The last time they appeared on screen together, Sue Johnston and Sean Bean were lovers.

Now, 30 years on, they have been cast as mother and son – prompting the actress to hit out at the sexism facing older women in showbusiness.

‘That’s what happens to actresses in the theatre or TV business,’ she complained. ‘Men stay the same and women get to be mothers.’

The pair first acted together in a 1992 episode of Inspector Morse, in which Bean played a convicted fraudster and Johnston was his wife.

Sue Johnson, pictured left, played Sean Bean's wife in a 1992 episode of Inspector Morse

Sue Johnson, pictured left, played Sean Bean's wife in a 1992 episode of Inspector Morse

Sue Johnson, pictured left, played Sean Bean’s wife in a 1992 episode of Inspector Morse

Sue Johnston as she is today

Sue Johnston as she is today

Sean Bean in the new prison drama

Sean Bean in the new prison drama

Johnson, pictured left, is back opposite Bean in a new prison drama Time, this time playing the Game of Throne star’s mother

But while in the forthcoming BBC1 drama Time, Bean, 61, again plays a jailbird, this time 77-year-old Johnston is his mum.

The actress, best known for starring in Brookside and The Royle Family, says the news is typical of how actresses must age into older roles, while their male co-stars can remain in similar parts.

In a candid interview with the Soap From The Box podcast, Johnston said: ‘I’ve just done this new drama called Time. It’s a Jimmy McGovern prison drama, just brilliant, three-parter, as all Jimmy’s are, and it’s with Sean Bean, among others, and Stephen Graham.

‘I play Sean Bean’s mother. Now, the last time I worked with Sean in Inspector Morse, I was his lover and now I’m his mother. And that’s what happens to actresses.’

Her accusations of sexism and ageism are likely to prompt unease at BBC Studios, the BBC’s commercial production company, which made the series.

In it, former Sharpe star Bean portrays a teacher whose life is destroyed when he accidentally kills a man and is so consumed with guilt that he welcomes his four-year prison sentence. 

Johnston is understood to have a large role in the series, which has just completed filming in her home city of Liverpool. Line Of Duty’s Stephen Graham also stars in the show, as prison officer Eric Reid.

Johnston isn’t the only actress to find herself playing her former lover’s mother.

Oscar winner Sally Field played Tom Hanks’s love interest in the 1988 comedy movie Punchline and, just six years later, appeared as his mother in Forrest Gump – even though she is only ten years older than him.

Such age discrimination is not rare in Hollywood. Nicole Kidman will play the mother of Jason Mamoa’s character Arthur Curry in the forthcoming Aquaman 2 movie, even though 53-year-old Kidman is only 12 years older than her male co-star. 

And in the 2004 film Alexander, Angelina Jolie played Colin Farrell’s mother, despite being just one year his senior.

Nor is it a new phenomenon: in the 1959 Alfred Hitchcock film North By Northwest, Cary Grant was actually ten months older than Jessie Royce Landis, the actress who played his mother.

New BBC director-general Tim Davie last week unveiled his new ‘critical’ diversity drive, with targets to improve the percentages of under-represented groups on and off screen. 

When he was appointed to his role last September, Davie criticised the ‘obsession with youth’ in broadcasting, but was soon drawn into an ageism storm after Sue Barker was dumped as the host of Question Of Sport at the age of 64.

The BBC said last night: ‘Sue Johnston and David Calder, who are brilliant as Sean’s parents in Time, were authentically and appropriately cast for these roles, as audiences will see when the drama airs.’



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