Mrs Lowry & Son
Vanessa Redgrave, Timothy Spall, Stephen Lord
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
…has a small canvas (sorry), and it suffers from a certain determined ordinariness, but it is affecting in other ways.
L.S. Lowry, though little known internationally perhaps, was one of the most beloved British artists of the 20th century. He was effectively self-taught, and he never sought out fame or high society (he turned down a knighthood that the Crown offered). According to Adrian Noble’s (The Importance of Being Earnest) biopic, Lowry said that “I am just a man who paints, nothing more, nothing less”.
You might call Lowry (here brilliantly played by Timothy Spall) a naïve painter in some ways, but the public saw something of lasting value in his ordinary scenes of Lancashire workers trudging the streets. They saw an endearing quality to his ‘matchstick men’. No one ever called the work of his contemporaries Francis Bacon or Lucien Freud endearing.
Noble’s film is basically a two hander. Along with Martyn Hesford as scriptwriter, he explores the slightly suffocating relationship between the adult Lowry and his invalided and mercurial mother Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave).
Every day Lowry comes home from his lowly clerical job to look after his bedridden ma. She is obsessed with keeping up appearance and lives by the illusion that she is still ‘middle class’ despite having fallen on hard times. Laurie, as she calls him, cooks her sausages and listens to her snippy remarks about his art and her undermining observations on his lack of attractiveness.
Everything he does is designed to placate or please her, even if he occasionally tires of her constant crabbiness. The bond between them is indispensable to both of them and, indeed, when she passed, he apparently felt bereft. She didn’t live long enough to see his work hung in posh galleries in London, or a whole museum/gallery erected in his honour.
The film has a small canvas (sorry), and it suffers from a certain determined ordinariness, but it is affecting in other ways. Redgrave, a mannered actor, plays Mrs Lowry without any intention of making us love her. But, by the same token, she isn’t just one dimensional. There are moments of grace in their relationship, which must have served both of them.
Spall (who recently played a much more famous artist in Mr Turner (2014)) shows, as always, his ability to hold our absolute attention without appearing to do very much. He is one of the great British film actors of his generation, though no doubt, like his character here, he would probably shrug off such grand compliments.