Growing up where I did in the North of England, I was well aware of the works of L.S Lowry from a young age. I made school trips to The Lowry to study his art and I’ve been to see loads of comedians and plays at The Lowry so I think I have some knowledge of Lowry’s work. So, when I heard that a film about Lowry was being released, I was intrigued, especially with it starring Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave. The film itself I found was an interesting look at Lowry and his relationship with his mum.
Set in 1934, the film focuses on the relationship between painter L.S Lowry and his mother Elizabeth. Whilst Lowry spends his days working as a rent collector/clerk and his nights painting, his mum stays in her room most of the day, too weak to do anything. The crux of the film is the relationship between the two, with Elizabeth being resentful of the life she has to lead, and not taking any joy or pride in the paintings that Lowry makes. Now the central relationship between Lowry and his mum is a pretty interesting one. We can see that there is love between the two, but there is also an underlying tension. Elizabeth used to be fairly wealthy and lived in a more prosperous area of Manchester and she has lingering resentment over having to leave that area and live in the working class area of Pendleton. This also reflects how she views Lowry’s artwork, seeing most of it as awful and hating that a lot of Lowry’s work was of industrial scenes, reminding her of the aspects of life she hates. Even when she does like one of the paintings, it’s only because a middle class acquaintance of hers likes the painting, with a lot of her negative opinions being based on negative reviews. This element of the film reflects the idea that people only give art value if others they respect like it, rather than having their own honest opinions on art, or letting feelings outside of the art reflect their opinions on art itself, which are interesting ideas.
The performances meanwhile are excellent. Whilst there are other characters, this is a two hander between Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave. Spall is excellent as Lowry, showing someone who is content with his life, happy working as a rent collector and doing his paintings and who enjoys little moments in life, such as playing with the neighbouring children. He effectively shows the affection that Lowry has for his mum and when Lowry talks about his art and his inspiration, along with when we see Lowry paint, Spall shows the pride that Lowry has in his work along with the way his mind works. Redgrave meanwhile is excellent as Elizabeth, effectively showing the resentment she has towards her life and how she wishes she could go back to a time before she moved to Pendleton, when she was set to be a concert pianist. We get the impression that she’s not been happy for a long time, the most recent time she was happy being when Lowry was a kid and they played on the beach together, and Redgrave shows someone who is miserable and lonely, just waiting to die since she has nothing else to do. Whilst the film doesn’t shy away from the more negative aspects of Elizabeth’s character, Redgrave shows more of a tragic side to the character, working together with Spall to create some powerful, tearjerking moments.
On a technical level, I found the film to be pretty impressive. Whilst most of the film takes place in one room, that room is designed to look virtually identical to the painting Lowry did of that room. This extends to the external shots in the film as well, with the production design and costume design, along with the cinematography, working to recreate the feel and style of Lowry’s paintings. For the most part, this works brilliantly, allowing us to the see the world as Lowry saw it and does a good job letting us see the genesis of Lowry’s artwork. Granted, a lot of the film does feel a bit stagey, which is a given since it is based on a radio/stage play, but there is some life given to the film by the way it represents Lowry’s art.
Overall, I thought Mrs Lowry and Son was a pretty interesting film. Whilst it does feel a bit stagey and I don’t think it could have sustained itself for any longer, this is still an interesting look at the relationship between Lowry and his mum and how Lowry’s personal life impacted his painting, with excellent performances from Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave carrying the film. Whilst it may not be for everyone and I can see some people calling this boring, I found it to be a worthwhile watch.
My Rating: 4/5