Mrs Lowry & Son

 

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A work more revealing about the mother than about the artist.

 

Mrs Lowry & Son

Vanessa Redgrave and Timothy Spall

 

In this film about the painter L.S. Lowry and his mother, Elizabeth, the artist is played by Timothy Spall and Elizabeth by Vanessa Redgrave. As written by Martin Hesford and directed by theatre director Adrian Noble, Mrs Lowry & Son is a film open to many critical reservations but if on that account you decide not to see it you miss a splendid performance by Timothy Spall and a sublime one from Redgrave who looks set to be my actress of the year.

 

Save for flashbacks and a modern coda, the film is set in 1934 when Lowry was living with his widowed mother in Pendlebury, Lancashire. His father had died leaving debts two years previously and Elizabeth, once with hopes of being a concert pianist and a built-in sense of the importance of going up in the world, blames her husband for the fact that they are now living in comparative squalor. Despite her son’s devotion - clearly expressed by the fact that this single man was constantly caring for her in her bedridden state - Elizabeth was rarely kind to him: she might occasionally complement him on his cooking but, always forthright, she did not hesitate to tell him to his face that his painting was worthless. It mattered not to this dominating, self-centred woman that he felt the need for approval since at this time his qualities as a painter went unrecognised.

 

The fact that L. S. Lowry allowed himself to be so put upon by his caustic mother and yet had the courage to persist with his art despite that lack of recognition renders him an unusual person. Yet Hesford’s screenplay hardly offers real insights, despite which Spall still manages to bring real conviction to the role. Other characters remain distinctly subsidiary including the posh neighbour (Wendy Morgan) so admired by Mrs Lowry. As director, Adrian Noble whose only previous film work has been connected to theatre productions tries to get away from the sense of this being a claustrophobic two-hander by inserting brief flashbacks to childhood, a few intercut images and an occasional use of superimposition. But it all seems a conscious effort - just think by way of comparison how this material could have played had it been handled by Terence Davies who would certainly not have used the unimaginative music score by Craig Armstrong.

 

But, if the film should have delved deeper into L. S. Lowry and ought to have excluded a horribly misjudged moment that brings him into the present, its portrait of Elizabeth Lowry as realised by Vanessa Redgrave feels absolutely complete. Never for a moment playing for sympathy, she shows that Lowry was indeed his mother’s victim but far more remarkably she enables us to see that she too was a victim, a victim of her upbringing. Some might argue that, given its origin as a radio play subsequently adapted for the stage, Mrs Lowry & Son means little as cinema. If so, they would be wrong, for what is achieved here by Redgrave and Spall although including skilled delivery of dialogue relies even more on their detailed facial and bodily expressions, something possible only on the screen. One scene here seems set up as a climax with Lowry driven at last to consider taking drastic action yet it comes over in the writing as contrived, but just contrast that with what for me is the film’s highlight. Mrs Lowry is positively transformed when the posh neighbour is prepared to call on her and the way in which we see her light up from the inside is a moment that illustrates perfectly why Vanessa Redgrave is an exceptional actress.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Vanessa Redgrave, Timothy Spall, Wendy Morgan, Stephen Lord, David Schaal, Michael Keogh, Ania Mason, Rose Noble, Katie Marie Carter, John Furlong, Giselle Cullinane, Laurence Mills, Jennifer Banks, Joanne Pearce.

 

Dir Adrian Noble, Pro Debbie Gray, Screenplay Martyn Hesford, based on his stage and BBC radio play, Ph Josep M. Civit, Pro Des Catrin Meredydd, Ed Chris Gill, Music Craig Armstrong, Costumes Jenny Beavan and Lauren Reyhani.

 

Genesius Pictures/The Little Film Company/The Exchange/IPG Media./Library Films/Moya Productions-Vertigo Films.
91 mins. UK/USA/Australia/Italy. 2018. Rel: 30 August 2019. Cert. PG.