Mum's List

 

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The true story of a wife and mother fighting cancer is told in heartfelt but commercial terms.

 
Mum's List

Rafe Spall and Emilia Fox

 

The fact that Mum's List has been released only a week or two after Starfish prompts an interesting comparison. On paper these two British films might seem to be companion pieces both being based on true stories and each concerned with the effects of a sudden devastating illness on a family with two young children. As it happens the illness in Starfish is sepsis and in Mum's List it is cancer, but the difference in tone between the two films is what is striking even though both feel to have been made with great sincerity.

 

In Mum's List Niall Johnson is the director but also the writer having adapted a book about Kate Greene who died in 2010 when in her late thirties. The book was written by her husband Singe (a shortened version of the name St John) who is played in the film by Rafe Spall while Kate herself is Emilia Fox. Initially when Kate was diagnosed with cancer, it was thought that she had a good chance of survival (which happily had proved to be the case with one of their sons, Reef, who in early childhood had also been treated for cancer). However, the film quickly reveals that she would not recover and the story of the Greene family is told out of chronological order as memories flood in after Kate's death. We see in some detail recollections of the days before illness struck as well as many related to the various phases that followed the diagnosis. As for the film's title, that refers not to a bucket list but to notes left by Kate combining memories, requests and suggestions as to what would probably be best for Singe and the children after her death.

 

This approach makes good sense and the film gains immensely from the well-judged performances of Spall and Fox which are absolutely central. Spall skilfully presents Singe as an everyman figure, someone with whom audiences can readily identify. Fox, convincingly depicting Kate's determination to fight the cancer, also finds a radiant appeal in her scenes ahead of the illness. But, where Starfish largely eschewed sentimentality to provide a harrowing yet remarkable cinematic experience, Mum's List opts for something more commercial in its tear-stained approach epitomised by its music (a score by Amelia Warner and a use of songs too). This is consistently done and may help Mum's List to find a wider audience than is likely for Starfish. If it works less well ultimately, it is because Mum's List is about twenty minutes too long having covered all the ground that really matters in its first 80 minutes or so and having by then provided its own climax through a flashback to Kate's happiest moment. By going on beyond that in an anticlimactic way it loses some of its impact, but by approaching its subject in a popular appeal way Mum's List is a film which could help and encourage viewers who are confronting cancer or memories of it within their own families.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Rafe Spall, Emilia Fox, Elaine Cassidy, William Stagg, Matthew Stagg, Richard Cordery, Susan Jameson, Ross McCormack, Sophie Simnett, Naomi Battrick.

 

Dir Niall Johnson, Pro Nick Hamson with Mark Faulconbridge, Screenplay Niall Johnson, based on the book of the same name by St John Greene, Ph Eben Bolter, Pro Des Kiera Tudway, Ed Robin Sales, Music Amelia Warner, Costumes Rebecca Duncan and Victoria Russell.

 

Studio Soho-Munro Film Services.
101 mins. UK. 2016. Rel: 25 November 2016. Cert. 12A.