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Masterpiece Theatre presents Dame Thora Hird and Pete Postlethwaite as mother and son in a touching portrait of the pitfalls of old age.

Lost for Words, a true story based on events in Deric Longden's autobiography, refers to the speech impairment that gradually affects the irrepressible Annie Longden (Hird) as she suffers a series of strokes.

Postlethwaite is Annie's son, Deric, a morose writer with an addiction to compassion. His first wife had been an invalid for fifteen years before drowning in the bath. Now he is married to Aileen (Penny Downie, The Ice House), who is blind.

The role of Annie was especially written for Hird who now, at age 88, is one of Britain's best loved actresses, with a career spanning seven decades. Her most recent honor is a 1999 British Academy award for a one-woman television performance in Waiting for the Telegram.

Postlethwaite is himself fast becoming an acting institution, having won an Oscar nomination for his 1994 role in the controversial Irish drama In the Name of the Father. He has since starred in Martin Chuzzlewit on Masterpiece Theatre, The Usual Suspects, a pair of Stephen Spielberg productions, Amistad and The Lost World: Jurassic Park and many other films.

In Lost for Words, Hird and Postlethwaite achieve a charming mix of melancholy and black comedy. At one point Deric asks: "Do you want to be buried, Mum, or cremated?" "Oh, I don't know love," she answers, "Surprise me." At another, she is in a hospital when a woman groaning with pain looks at her and explains: "renal colic." Annie stretches out her hand and says: "Annie Longden," and then, in an aside to Deric, "She must be French with a name like that."

Annie starts out in perfect control of her life. When she suddenly decides her house is too big, she buys a new one and puts the old one on the market. Prospective buyers call for appointments and she arranges for everyone to come on the same day at the same time, making a tea party of the occasion at which she points out all the flaws in the house. It sells anyway.

Then she suffers her first stroke -- a mild one from which she quickly recovers, but it leaves her strangely obsessed with gremlins. It's the first sign that she is on a voyage of no return. Deric and Aileen help her along the difficult way, with humor and matchless devotion.

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