Director: Adrian Noble
Writer: Martyn Hesford
Starring: Vanessa Redgrave, Timothy Spall, Stephen Lord
In 1930s Lancashire, artist LS. Lowry (Spall) lives a humble working-class existence in a terraced house with his elderly mother Elizabeth (Redgrave), balancing his time between looking after her, working and painting. Her extreme disapproval of his paintings often leads to conflict between the two of them.
There are of course many films that are adaptations of plays or books, and these are of course very different art forms to that of film, but it can very difficult for the film version to escape its original routes. Mrs Lowry & Son is a perfect example of this; despite two incredible performances from its leading actors, it just cannot quite escape its routes as a stage play, and so produces a very watchable, but ultimately unsatisfying and hollow cinematic experience.
Perhaps what does not help is that the original writer of the play adapts his script for the screen, and the director is a veteran of directing plays. They are obviously two very talented individuals in their particular field, but if the screenwriting and directing roles for Mrs Lowry & Son were perhaps given to individuals with more experience in the cinema, then they could have further enhanced it as a cinematic release while at the same time keep what is at its soul as a very human story about the troubled relationship between a mother and her son,
There are certainly attempts to make the film cinematic, such as visual recreations of L.S. Lowry’s paintings and how he sees the world, but the predominantly one-room setting of the film cannot help but make it feel like we are just watching a play on the screen. There is potential in the script for a film that has a broad examinational scope that examines many interesting ideas and themes, such as class, self-fulfilling prophecy, loyalty to family or what it was like to live in working-class Lancashire at the time, but at a very brief running time of 91 minutes the film does feel rushed and at times hollow. We are given the occasional flashback of L.S. Lowry’s childhood, but are left wanting more so to as to really get under the skin of the film’s protagonists.
Thankfully the performances do elevate the slightly lacklustre material; it would be very easy for the character of Elizabeth Lowry to be a two-dimensional caricature, but Vanessa Redgrave makes sure that she is genuinely interesting and we the audience want to know why she is so snobbish in her attitudes towards class and why she is so disapproving of her son and his paintings. For Timothy Spall this is the opposite end of the spectrum to his very physical performance in Mike Leigh’s stunning Mr. Turner; his L.S. Lowry is an asexual introvert who dedicates his life to his mother, and her extreme disapproval and disappointment is often met with stuttering and internal frustration. It is once again a great physical performance from Spall, but a that of a different kind that is a very nuanced in which he captures his character’s internal frustrations perfectly.
The great performances make sure that Mrs Lowry & Son is certainly very watchable, but it cannot help but feel like a wasted opportunity in that those involved have failed to utilise what can be done within the medium of film to enhance what has the potential to be a fascinating character study. An exception to this however is the film’s music; Craig Armstrong has of course already proved himself to be a very accomplished composer of film scores, and his music to this film is a stunning, piano-based collection of melancholic pieces that certainly serve to enhance both the film’s themes and level of emotional engagement, but do ultimately feel wasted.
One strange decision by those involved is for the film to end with various shots of the Lowry gallery, and though it is quite obvious what point this is trying to make, it cannot help but feel like a cheap advert, and one that sums up the film’s slightly troubled transition from stage to screen.
The incredible performances from the two leads elevate what is otherwise a film that really struggles to escape its routes as a play; Mrs Lowry & Son is certainly watchable but should have been much better.