I spoke last Sunday with Mary and Martha director Phillip Noyce. We went on for a half-hour — here’s the mp3. The nominal subject of Mary and Martha is the ravages of malaria, so tomorrow is an especially fitting day to catch it. But the film is really about much more, and not just in terms of content. It’s a personal film for Noyce as well as a spiritual retreat of sorts.

Mary and Martha director Phillip Noyce.

Noyce’s motive in directing a politically-tinged HBO character drama, he says, was to downshift from his experience as the director of Salt, a hugely successful Angelina Jolie action thriller that required dealing with as many political elements as creative ones. Noyce equates the experience to working in a “washing machine.”

Mary and Martha is about two moms (Hilary Swank, Brenda Blethyn) “coping with the malaria-caused deaths of their sons in Africa, and about the social and political activism these tragedies bring about,” I wrote three days ago. “But it’s clean and direct and earnest as far as the story allows it to go, which is farther than you might expect,”night, and it hit me all over again (and in a sense a bit more this time) how well made it is, how carefully finessed, how exactly right it all feels.

Noyce is primarily known for directing big expensive action thrillers and potboilers (Salt, Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games, Dead Calm) as well as somewhat smaller-scaled humanistic dramas (Rabbit-Proof Fence, Catch A Fire, The Quiet American) — this is obviously one of the latter.

“The material might be a little on-the-nose, but Noyce knows exactly what he’s doing, and there’s just this sense of convergence — a team of clearly talented people have been told to contribute in just the right way. It’s so well acted by not only Swank and Blethyn but every last costar and bit player (Frank Grillo, James Woods, Lux Honey-Jardine, Sam Claflin, Sean O’Bryan, Ian Redford) and written with such clarity and finesse that it moves along and just sinks right in without a hint of huffing or puffing…it just happens.”

Noyce’s next project is a kind of futuristic Hunger Games-meets-Phillip K. Dick film with Jeff Bridges and yet-to-be-cast costar. It will shoot in South Africa. The Weinstein Co. is producing.