I wonder if Timothy Spall has made it his mission to play every great British painter on film. After his portrayal in Academy award-nominated Mr. Turner, he now turns his attention to another great painter and local icon to me, L.S. Lowry. Being born and raised in Manchester, I learned about L.S Lowry very early in my life, one of the local landmarks near where I live even made it into one of his paintings. Going into even deeper research, I found out that the script for Mrs. Lowry & Son was originally written for radio before it was given the silver screen greenlight. The transition from radio to the silver screen is painfully clear, however, it can’t take away the films alluring insight.
The film boasts two acting powerhouses in Timothy Spall as the matchstick man painter L.S. Lowry as well as Vanessa Redgrave as his bedridden mother Elizabeth Lowry. I don’t anyone in the UK needs reminding of how incredibly talented these two actors are, and their performances make up a big part of how alluring the film is. However, I find myself leaning towards Vanessa Redgrave’s performance as a total show-stealer. Her character Elizabeth is a clingy mother filled with regret after falling down the class ladder, most of her dialogue is lamenting on how she is disappointed by her son & wanting him to give up painting. I know your starting to think this character sounds vile, but the film makes sure to give you an explanation as to how she got to this point in her life and in her wickedness you see tragedy, a factor Redgrave is sure to highlight in her performance.
The film plays out more like a celebration of L.S. Lowry rather than a biographical film at times. This is evident from moments where we are taken away from the mother/son relationship and look more into L.S. Lowry’s vision through visual recreations of his paintings. They are admittedly placed oddly but to an admirer of Lowry’s work its very pleasant to see his works in the world of the film. The time we spend with Lowry and his vision isn’t wasted because you learn about his simplicity, there is no great calling like some artists have, there’s no creative epiphany, he is just a man who paints to make his mother happy.
Its odd structure isn’t the only thing that will feel odd is Mrs. Lowry & Son. While we do get to see a bit of 1930’s Pendlebury, the bulk of the film takes place in one location, the bedroom of Mrs. Lowry. There’s a rule of thumb for a film with very little locations which is if we’re not moving around in the world of the film, if we’re sticking to one place, there must be some sort of heavy drama going on. The drama in question is seeing a what point L.S. Lowry will suddenly snap after being held back by this mother for so long, doing the same mundane chores every day. But with the films slow burn until the snap, it does from time to time feel like the film is going nowhere, it’s all a matter of taste.
Something that must be addressed, and I believe this is the most important point I can make about Mrs. Lowry & Son, is its transition from a different medium. As already mentioned, this film was originally a radio play and based on dialogue, staging, and overall feel, I would much rather have seen this film as the radio play it intended to be, maybe even a theatre production. The issue I have with the script is that it feels like there were no alterations to the dialogue when it changed into full film production, turning the pace from slow to sluggish. It makes it even more difficult to see any sort of advancement in the story.
A character in the story who we come across more than once in the story is Mrs. Stanhope (Wendy Morgan). She is the next-door neighbor who is in a similar situation to Mrs. Lowry as she has also fallen down the class ladder. I believe the purpose of this character is, so Mrs. Lowry feels as though she is taking the first step back up the social ladder. While I believe this character serves a great purpose to elevate the character of Mrs. Lowry, she does cause some problems. She is introduced in a way that seems too repetitive. Before we see her, L.S. Lowry is always describing her to Mrs. Lowry through their bedroom window, the camera angles in which she is shot through the window is the same. If we are to believe she is this intriguing person to Mrs. Lowry, she needs to be interesting, showing her the same way gets boring.
The scenes in Mrs. Lowry & Son can create the sense of Déjà vu, and the transition between radio and film is a bumpy one, however, if you want a story that tells you to never give up on your passion, you can’t choose a finer film. This film teaches you to believe in what you’re doing, even if those closest around you disapprove. From a young age, I could respect L.S. Lowry, now seeing the troubled life he went through to become appreciated; you can call me an admirer.