Tuesday 3 September 2019

Film: 'Mrs Lowry & Son'

It's about time I saw a film and wish to praise it, and here it is. A number of reviews I've seen are of the opinion that it's inert and doesn't live up to its promise. I beg to differ.

Firstly, I'm not sure how much the artist L.S.Lowry (1887-1976) is known outside these shores. My guess is that he's one of those localised talents whose reputation hasn't travelled far. Indeed, even in this country he was hardly a presence at all in general consciousness until, two years after his own death, it was boosted by a hit pop record on the subject of his life ("Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs" by 'Brian and Michael'). It was a spectacular hit, one of the biggest of 1978 when it spent three weeks at Number One, and from that time till now his fame was assured and he's never faded from public appreciation. Nearly every British adult will recognise the artist behind a lot of his paintings, they being so distinctive, his speciality being  scenes of a northern industrial town (he lived in Lancashire) often outside smoke-belching factories, with crowds of spindly-painted, working class people - and occasionally featuring the odd dog (mostly). I find his works more interesting rather than actively likeable. Here's a typical one showing his unique trademark style:- 

Now back to this film. It's set in 1934 as Lowry (Timothy Spall) is struggling to be recognised, living in a terraced house in a small industrial Lancashire town, alone with his aged and ailing, practically bed-confined, mother (Vanessa Redgrave). 
Spall was only five years ago portraying another painter, J.M.W.Turner, in the superb 'Mr Turner' and in this he pulls off the feat once more though here playing a completely different personality. But it's Redgrave, now 83, who gets star billing in this, her most substantial role in decades, perhaps all the way back to that Ken Russell horror-fest 'The Devils' in 1971.

Much of the film takes place in the mother's bedroom where her late-middle-aged son has to bring her meals, brush her hair, do whatever's necessary for her which she can't manage herself. But in return for his sacrifice which he carries out with a patience which would put to shame many in the same position, his mother is constantly argumentative, peevish and, at times, downright nasty.  In particular she is cruelly demeaning about his paintings and implores him to give it up and find something else to do. Despite his evident hurt he carries on with his 'hobby' (as she puts it) - until there's a mighty row.
The film is at least as much about the relationship between these two as it is about his painting - it is, after all, set in just that key year of 1934.
I didn't know much about Lowry's life and if this film is anything to go by he had no romantic interest, at least in this particular year.
The only other significant role is that of the couple's upper-class neighbour, barely surviving in an unhappy marriage. But Mrs Lowry feels it's an honour to have such a 'well-bred' lady actually living next door, unlikely as that is.

There are substantial conversations between the artist and his mother (the latter dying five years after the time this film is set) and it's that which propels the film forward, albeit in first gear. It's true that little of great moment actually happens until the pair's 'frank exchange' but I didn't mind that.

This is only director Adrian Noble's third feature film but I'm sure he's brought to the screen all he wanted to - and it's a joy. If you go without high expectations that would be the best frame of mind to appreciating it. But you couldn't get much further from an 'action-movie' than this little gem - and only an hour and a half long too!......................7.5.

(IMDb..................7.3 / Rott. Toms [critics only] ................5.3 )


  1. This one sounds like it's right up my alley. I'll have to check our local arthouse theater and see if it's coming this way.

    1. Even if you don't know anything about Lowry the artist (though you may actually do), his painting activities doesn't overwhelm this film, Bob, dealing just as much with the squabbles between the pair, and that only in the narrow timeline of a very few months. Well worth it.

  2. This is one that I will see. I liked Timothy Spall as Turner and I think he is a great actor and I also find Lowry an interesting artist too.

    1. It's really got to be seen, Carol, and I'm pleased that you will. You won't feel let down I can assure you.

  3. It was quite the movie. I have never wanted to throttle a mother before. I hope that Timothy Spall gets rewarded for his performance.

    1. That's precisely how I felt about the Mrs Lowry character too, Poppy. It would have been so easy to have played her as simply loopy or a cantankerous but dottily sympathetic figure. In fact Vanessa R. brought a real punch to the part, articulate and horribly real. It was a marvel how her son managed to hold onto his sanity having to fend for her several times daily as well as engaging with her 'me, me, me!' conversation. It demonstrates just how great an actress Redgrave still is, now in her 80s yet with no diminishing of her powers.
      I fear that Spall will get overlooked once more as he always has been. There'll be no recognition on the American side that's for sure, but he just may pick up something from the Brits. I'll be twice as happy if Vanessa R. make it a double for this film, though that's probably asking too much.