Timothy Spall plays English painter L.S. Lowry – here a frustrated artist in 1930s Lancashire – and Vanessa Redgrave his bed-ridden, domineering mother, in this popular play-turned-biopic.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2019
Having already played J.M.W. Turner to great acclaim, Timothy Spall takes on another English painter with equally compelling results. Laurence Stephen (L.S.) Lowry was a Lancashire artist whose depictions of industrial life only found an audience and admiration once he reached middle age.
Focusing on the mid-1930s, the period just before Lowry was discovered, theatre director Adrian Noble’s film looks at the relationship between the then Pendlebury rent collector and his bed-ridden, domineering mother Elisabeth (Vanessa Redgrave). Struggling to pay off debts his father left behind, ‘Laurie’ also bears the brunt of his mum’s fragile physical and emotional state. “I’m never cheerful, not since 1868,” she opines, while grumbling about their working-class neighbours, her son’s apparent lack of ambition and his ‘hobby’. Seemingly taking delight in reading aloud a scathing review of one of his works in the local paper, she also casts doubt on the authenticity of a letter from London proposing an exhibition of his works. “Why can’t you paint something picturesque, tasteful? What about a bowl of fruit?”, Elizabeth chides.
Essentially a two-hander, Mrs Lowry & Son is a terrific, slow-burning showcase for the acting skills of Redgrave and Spall. Their scenes together crackle with tension and barely repressed anger, as Laurie finds his attempts to evolve stymied by his almost maniacal mum. The svelte Spall is particularly impressive, whether with brush in hand, or using the canvas of his face to portray the flickers of an artist’s pent up emotions. — James Croot