Despite towering performances from Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave, MRS LOWRY & SON feels more like an extended chamber piece than a portrait of an actual artist
The city of Salford is famous for many things – its part in the industrial revolution, Ordsall Hall and Eccles cakes to name but a few. But its most famous export is undoubtedly LS Lowry, the artist famous for his distinctive urban life paintings and “matchstick men”. Fitting then that Adrian Noble’s new biopic MRS LOWRY & SON made its gala premiere at Salford’s The Lowry last night, the very place designed to honour the man himself.
Set in Salford in the 1920s, MRS LOWRY & SON tells of the tumultuous relationship between L.S. Lowry (Timothy Spall) and his overbearing mother Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave). Bed-ridden and bitter, Elizabeth actively tries to dissuade her bachelor son from pursuing his artistic ambitions, whilst never failing to voice her opinion at what a disappointment he was to her.
It is this push-and-pull dynamic between mother and son that forms the heart of Noble’s film. Taking place almost entirely in the bedroom of Mrs Lowry, Noble concocts an almost theatre-like production of conversations, arguments, laughter and tears to tell a story of a mother and son separated by art and ambition.
As expected, Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave both give towering, complementary performances, Redgrave, in particular, shining as Lowry’s fragile and unhappy mother, bringing a sense of humanity to a woman who is relentlessly critical and bitter.
Spall is equally impressive as the resolutely loyal and well-mannered Lowry, hope and pride radiating from him as he seeks approval from his beloved mother, only to be shut down, embarrassed and disappointed when she opens her mouth.
Yet as impressive as Spall and Redgrave are, it’s not quite enough to carry a whole film. While Martyn Hesford’s script is punctuated by some delightful moments of humour, it feels sluggish and repetitive. Despite its modest run time of one hour and 30 minutes, this film is mesmerizingly slow, feeling more like an extended chamber piece than a portrait of an actual artist.
A couple of sequences, which see the action break away from the muted, artistic tones of the film, also feel a little awkward and out of place. The closing sequence in particular which sees Lowry takes a five-minute look around at his real-world art gallery, feels odd and disjointed. Don’t get me wrong, it was interesting to see Lowry’s paintings displayed in their full glory, but it felt like the sequence had been tagged on for financial reasons rather than to aid the storytelling.
That said, there are some tender and beautiful scenes in MRS LOWRY & SON, in particular, those in which Mrs Lowry finally seems to be coming round to the idea of her son being a professional painter.
The sequences filmed outside of the bedroom are also memorising to watch, Noble combining stunning cinematography with beautiful set design to recreate iconic scenes from Lowry’s paintings including MAN LYING ON A WALL, COMING FROM THE MILL and INDUSTRIAL LANDSCAPE.
MRS LOWRY & SON is released in UK cinemas from 30 August 2019.
Donna is the Founder and Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she works as a digital marketing specialist, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage and The Reviews Hub. Loves Formula 1, prosecco and life.