Movie review / ‘Mrs Lowry & Son’ (PG)

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Vanessa Redgrave and Timothy Spall in “Mrs Lowry & Son”.

“Mrs Lowry & Son” (PG) **** and a half

IN 2000, in the Manchester suburb of Salford, an art gallery costing £106 million opened to present the works of Laurence Lowry. 

Never heard of him? I’d also not heard of director Adrian Noble, whose filmic portrait of Lowry and his mother Elizabeth has come to Canberra. I had indeed heard of Vanessa Redgrave, in her 80s playing Elizabeth propped up in bed upstairs and am pleased to advise that she’s looking well and giving a top portrayal of a woman who at first was uncomfortable even looking at her son. 

Writer Martyn Hesford has set the film in 1938, a year before her death, when Laurence was 51.

In adulthood, Laurence worked as a rent collector, coming home to do the housework, painting when Elizabeth was asleep. Elizabeth used illness to secure her son’s attention and obedience. In a very real way, Laurence was spending his life mothering his mother.

Don’t think, from this brief outline, that ”Mrs Lowry & Son” is going to be a depressing movie unworthy of your attention. Indeed, it’s no bundle of warm fuzzy feelings. But playing Laurence, Timothy Spall more than compensates for that. One of Britain’s most versatile actors, he doesn’t need to look good to be good. Indeed, he’s better than that.

The film contains passages that make you wonder why Laurence didn’t just tell Elizabeth to get out of bed and manage her own life instead of demanding that he perform every domestic chore on the list, from doing the shopping to emptying the chamber pot. That he didn’t is what makes the film such a tour-de-force. 

Laurence’s paintings wonderfully observe working class life. Naïve perhaps, but emotionally powerful. He died in 1976 aged 88 leaving an estate valued at £298,459, after rejecting five honours ranging from OBE to Companion of Honour, and a knighthood. And his work now commands seven-digit prices.

All this adds up to a low-budget, high-provenance movie that says much about devotion and passion. Not of the conventional kind.

At Dendy and Capitol 6

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"Mrs Lowry & Son" (PG) **** and a half
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Dougal Macdonald
“CityNews” film reviewer

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