MRS LOWRY AND SON

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Adrian Noble

Stars: Timothy Spall, Vanessa Redgrave, Wendy Morgan, Stephen Lord, Michael Keogh.

Vanessa Redgrave and Timothy Spall in Mrs Lowry & Son (2019)

There have been a lot of films and biopics about troubled and struggling artists and their creative process, including the likes of Basquiat, Pollock, and several films about Van Gogh including the dramas At Eternity’s Gate and Lust For Life, etc. Mrs Lowry And Son is a slow moving, drab and cheerless drama is something of an acquired taste that will not appeal to everybody.

“I’m a man who paints, nothing more, nothing less.” So says L S Lowry (Timothy Spall), who is revered as one of Britain’s greatest artists of the twentieth century, who rose from obscurity to find fame late in life. He was highly regarded for his bleak paintings depicting the grim realities of life in the industrial suburbs of Manchester and his signature matchstick like figures. Chances are, though, that a lot of people haven’t heard of him. And this rather dull biopic is unlikely to give us much more insight into the artist and his creative process, nor enlighten those have never heard of him.

Far from a conventional portrait of the artist, this biopic concentrates on a brief period of his life and presents us with a microcosm that shaped him. The time is 1934. Lowry works by day as a debt collector visiting impoverished families, while at night he spends time in his attic painting, feeling compelled to put down everything he sees.

He still lived with his aged and ailing bedridden mother Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave), an embittered, neurotic and manipulative woman who disparages his art as a hobby that will get him nowhere. Lowry desperately sought his mother’s approval. Elizabeth was still bitter about having to move from her posh suburb to the working-class suburb of Pendlebury after her husband died, leaving behind a mountain of debts. She yearned for her lost youth, status and thwarted ambition to become a concert pianist, and she took her resentment out on her son. Lowry persisted with his paintings though and was eventually given his own exhibition at a gallery in London, which marked a turning point in his fortunes. Following his death in 1976 his once unfashionable paintings now sell for millions. He was also the official artist at the coronation Of Queen Elizabeth II.

Mrs Lowry and Son was written by playwright Martyn Hesford, who has adapted his own 2012 BBC radio play for the screen. Unfortunately, this staid film cannot escape its origins – most of the action is confined to Mrs Lowry’s depressingly cramped and ill lit bedroom, and Spanish cinematographer Josep M Civit gives the material a suitably claustrophobic feel. There are a few attempts from director Adrian Noble (an award-winning theatre director best known for his work as the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company) to open the drama up with some exterior shots. Anthony Ward’s production design is also good.

It is the prickly and troubled, complex and toxic relationship between the pair that forms the crux of this drama. This is essentially a two hander, with superb performances from Spall and Redgrave as they trade barbs and emotionally laden conversations. In one of her best roles for several years Redgrave has the meatier part and imbues her mean-spirited and overbearing character with plenty of nuances and subtle touches. She spits out her verbal abuse with relish. Spall recently played another famous British painter in the biopic Mr Turner. With his dour demeanour and perpetually glum hangdog expression Spall is perfectly cast as the downtrodden, lonely and introverted Lowry.  He imbues his character with a melancholy quality.

Ultimately this is a pretty stifling, claustrophobic and suffocating film. Having recently screened at the British Film Festival at palace Cinemas, Mrs Lowry And Son is a two-handed chamber piece that will do well on the art house circuit.

★★☆

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