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Mrs Lowry & Son: The Gala Premiere

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by David Keyworth (subscribe)
I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester. keyworthdavid@gmail.com https://uk.linkedin.com/pub/david-keyworth/49/b3a/b83 My debut poetry pamphlet is available at www.wildpressedbooks.com/david-keyworth.html
Event:
In the frame
We're used to stories of artistic sons and daughters struggling against parents who want them to follow a more conventional path. But usually, it is a teenager who is faced with the unsympathetic parent(s).

In Mrs Lowry & Son (directed by Adrian Noble, formerly of the Royal Shakespeare Company) the son is a long way from being a teenager if he was ever one in the first place.

Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave, LS Lowry, The Little Film Company, Lowry Centre, Genesius Pictures cinema, Manchester, Salford Quays
Timothy Spall in Mrs Lowry & Son director, Adrian Noble (photo: Joseph Scanlon)


The film is set in 1934 when Lowry was 46/47. His day's work as a rent collector ends with him returning to the two-up-two-down house he shares with his mother. She has taken permanently to her bed for reasons which are never quite explained.

Elizabeth Lowry is played by Vanessa Redgrave with viscous sardonic timing. She wastes no opportunity to tell her son what a disappointment he is: "You're not an artist and you never will be," to take just one example.

Even when she expresses tenderness it is undercut with an insult: "You'll never leave me will you Laurie? What woman would have you?" Her maternal affection wavers like a failing gaslight.

Timothy Spall, Vanessa Redgrave, LS Lowry, The Little Film Company, Lowry Centre, Genesius Pictures cinema, Manchester, Salford Quays
Vanessa Redgrave and Timothy Spall in Mrs Lowry & Son director, Adrian Noble (photo: Joseph Scanlon)


It is a pressure cooker domestic existence which verges on parental abuse. Why doesn't Laurie move out? Partly it must be lack of money (his paintings don't sell) but mainly it seems to be a sense of duty he feels to relieve the wistful misery his mother wallows in. "I've not been cheerful since 1868," she comments in one of her ripostes

Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave, LS Lowry, The Little Film Company, Lowry Centre, Genesius Pictures cinema, Manchester, Salford Quays
Portrait of the Artist's Mother by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887–1976) courtesy of The Lowry arts centre)


Adrian Noble suggests one reason for her bitterness by the use of flashbacks to a piano-playing life of afternoon teas in Victoria Park - a leafy suburb in south Manchester - before Laurie's father's debts caught up with him and the three downsized to Station Road, Pendlebury.

The tension in Martyn Hesford's screenplay (originally written for the stage) is how long Laurie can absorb and deflect his Mother's jibes without it ruining his self-esteem.

The film is almost exclusively a two-hander and most of the action takes place in the same room. Why bother adapting the script for the screen, apart from its potential to be seen by a wider audience?

In the Q&A after the screening, hosted by Mark Radcliffe, Adrian Noble commented that the subject matter suited the big screen.

Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave, LS Lowry, The Little Film Company, Lowry Centre, Genesius Pictures cinema, Manchester, Salford Quays
Timothy Spall in Mrs Lowry & Son director, Adrian Noble (photo: Joseph Scanlon)


There are deft references to Lowry's work - at one point he lies on a wall (and promptly falls of it). Timothy Spall spoke about how absorbed he became in Lowry's life and work. The actor referred to "the gorgeous lovely decrepitude" of Lowry's paintings. "His self portraiture is in those buildings," he added.

Timothy Spall, Vanessa Redgrave, LS Lowry, The Little Film Company, Lowry Centre, Genesius Pictures cinema, Manchester, Salford Quays
Adrian Noble, Martyn Hesford, Debbie Gray (Producer), Timothy Spall, Vanessa Redgrave


The use of lighting (Josep M. Civit was the film's Director of Photography) is crucial to the mood. Sunlight flooding through net curtains is more intense because of the confined space of the bedroom.

The film camera also allows close-ups, which we wouldn't get at the theatre. Vanessa Redgrave's pleading eyes don't excuse her casual cruelty but suggest they are a way for her to offload the deep frustration at the way her life has turned out, two years since her husband died.

imothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave, LS Lowry, The Little Film Company, Lowry Centre, Genesius Pictures cinema, Manchester, Salford Quays
Gala Premiere at The Lowry in Salford


Non-verbal acting is crucial to the success of Timothy Spall's performance. It tells us what Lowry couldn't or wouldn't express to his mother.

Even so, Lowry is not as gruntingly taciturn as JMW Turner, who Spall portrayed in Mike Leigh's 2014 film Mr Turner. Both artists were rebels with a cause, though. In Lowry's case, however, it was as his Mother and local critics who he had to resist rather than Turner's battles with the Royal Academy.

Lowry's mantra, "I am a man who paints nothing more nothing less" is an inspiration to everyone who questions the value of pursuing their own creative leanings.

Mrs Lowry & Son trusts the slow burn of its emotions. It has faith in its subject matter and audience and avoids appeals to easy sentiment and neat resolution.

It is also the closest we will probably come to seeing the visual world Lowry would have created if he had ever got swapped his paintbrush for a cinema camera.
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Why? Film that brings Lowry's visual world to the big screen and paints a picture of his domestic struggles
Phone: 0343 208 6000
Where: Lowry arts centre, Pier 8, Salford Quays, M50 3AZ
Your Comment
Great review. So well crafted and informed.
by Nadine Cresswell-Myatt (score: 3|5722) 75 days ago
Thanks Nadine!
by David Keyworth (score: 1|96) 75 days ago
Foodi Photoh Classie
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