Mrs Lowry & Son + Q&A (PG)

Drama (2019)
91mins UK

Starring: Vanessa Redgrave, Timothy Spall, Stephen Lord
Director: Adrian Noble
Writer(s): Martyn Hesford
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

LS Lowry works as a rent collector in 1920s Salford, where he closely observes the ebb and flow of daily life. In the evening, he takes art classes and translates his studies of people into detailed paintings. Art is his passion but his embittered, bed-ridden mother Elizabeth does not share this love. She does everything within her power to dissuade her son from following his dream. Caught between artistic ambitions and the woman who raised him, Lowry silently vows to prove his mother wrong.

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LondonNet Film Review
Mrs Lowry & Son (PG)

Adapted by Martyn Hesford from his acclaimed 2013 stage play, Mrs Lowry & Son is a dour study of Stretford-born painter LS Lowry and the toxic relationship with his ageing, malcontent mother, which almost stifled his artistic ambitions. The matchstick men and women of his evocative paintings are largely confined to the attic, where Lowry daubed from memory late at night to the persistent hiss of a gas lamp. It is a lonely, isolating existence but one that seems to fulfil the dutiful son. "I'm a man who paints, nothing more, nothing less," he confides in the guise of Timothy Spall, who delivered a towering performance as JMW Turner for Mike Leigh and is markedly restrained here for director Adrian Noble...

Mrs Lowry & Son. Caption: Vanessa Redgrave as Elizabeth Lowry and Timothy Spall as L S Lowry in Mrs Lowry & Son, directed by Adrian Noble. Copyright: Vertigo Releasing. All Rights Reserved. Like its theatrical predecessor, the film is predominantly a claustrophobic two-hander between the painter and his mother, portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave as a purse-lipped harpy with a boundless capacity to wound with her words. The verbal onslaught is relentless and our sympathy rests firmly with the long-suffering son as he tends to the matriarch's every whim with a hangdog expression that conceals a steady, gentle simmer of Oedipal rage...

Every evening, Laurence Lowry (Spall) returns home to a terraced house in Pendlebury, Lancashire and his domineering mother Elizabeth (Redgrave). Throughout the day, while her son toils as a rent collector, Elizabeth marinates in bitterness and resentment, horrified that the debts of her late husband (Michael Keogh) have condemned her to a two-up two-down surrounded by soot-smudged members of the working class. "I can't abide ugliness. I don't have the constitution for it," she sneers, aiming her pent-up bile at the one person who cooks her dinner, carries her to bed and brushes the knots from her hair.

Laurie's passion for art fuels Elizabeth's ire and she reads aloud a review in the local newspaper of his painting Coming From The Mill, which is dismissed as "ridiculous mannequins in a squalid industrial scene" and "an insult to the people of Lancashire". Time and time again, Elizabeth attempts to dissuade her son from picking up a paintbrush to focus on more important matters. Like her. "You'll never leave me, will you?" she pleads. "No mother... promise," sighs Laurie. "That's right," she nods, "after all, what woman would have you?".

Mrs Lowry & Son struggles to escape the turpentine fumes of its stage origins, with occasional flashbacks to expand the film's colour-bleached canvas beyond the walls of the family home. The leads relish the verbal to and fro. Redgrave makes little effort to disguise her character's displeasure with her current situation - "I haven't been cheerful since 1868, the year of my confirmation" - while Spall suffers each barrage of barbs with wearisome sighs and a stoicism that verges on saintliness.

- Jo Planter

Mrs Lowry & Son. Caption: Timothy Spall as L S Lowry in Mrs Lowry & Son, directed by Adrian Noble. Copyright: Vertigo Releasing. All Rights Reserved.

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