Film review: Mrs. Lowry & Son

David Gritten / 27 August 2019

Timothy Spall gives an astonishing performance as the modest artist desperate to impress his critical mother.

Mrs. Lowry & Son is an ironic title that speaks volumes about the relationship between L.S. Lowry, one of the most feted and popular British painters of the last century, and his mother Elizabeth. After the death of his father, she was bedridden, unhappy - and dismissive of her son’s artistry, despite his efforts to paint anything that might make her happy.

Their volatile, claustrophobic family drama is played out in a small house in Pendlebury, Lancashire, where L.S. Lowry worked as a rent collector. Elizabeth berates her working-class surroundings and derides her bachelor son’s vain attempts to improve her mood with his paintings: “You’re not an artist and never will be,” she declares.

Two such dominant roles demand outstanding actors, and happily Timothy Spall (who played another great artist in Mr. Turner) and Vanessa Redgrave are more than equal to the task.

Spall, in particular, is astonishing as L.S. Lowry – an apparently passive, timid man, desperately eager to please his mother – to the extent that he painted mainly in the early hours after midnight when she was finally asleep.

It seems astonishing that such a modest man would have a whole world in his imagination - a world of industrial landscapes peopled by ‘matchstick men,’ that finally made him beloved by the British public.

With a detailed, complex script by Martyn Hesford and astute, thoughtful direction by Adrian Noble, Mrs. Lowry and Son is shaping up as one of the year’s finest British films.

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