Edinburgh International Film Festival: Mrs Lowry & Son review

Alistair Harknes reviews Mrs Lowry & Son at this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Timothy Spall. Picture: Mrs Lowry & Son Twitter
Timothy Spall. Picture: Mrs Lowry & Son Twitter
Timothy Spall. Picture: Mrs Lowry & Son Twitter

Mrs Lowry & Son **

Drawing this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival to a close in typically dreary fashion, Mrs Lowry & Son unintentionally dispels the myth that every aspect of a great artist’s life is ripe for the biopic treatment. Having played JMW Turner for Mike Leigh, Timothy Spall gets out his paint brushes and easel once more to play LS Lowry, the Lancashire-based chronicler of early 20th century industrial life whose childlike paintings of matchstick figures were early examples of naive or outsider art (they also inspired Status Quo’s Pictures of Matchstick Men and one-hit-wonders Brian and Michael’s Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs).

Sadly, unlike Mr Turner, the film doesn’t illuminate its subject’s artistic process in any meaningful way, choosing instead to zero in on his troubled relationship with his invalid yet domineering mother whose approval he fruitlessly sought until the end of her life. Adapted by theatre director Adrian Noble from screenwriter Martyn Hesford’s Radio 4 play of the same name, the film demonstrates little apparent interest in transcending its origins.

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Constructed as a series of stagey encounters between Lowry and the bed-ridden Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave) — whose mortification at her own downward mobility fuels her bitterness — it’s an anti-cinematic dirge. Redgrave’s putdowns lack the requisite wit and venom to make Elizabeth’s awfulness in anyway entertaining; Spall, meanwhile, is given nothing to sink his teeth into so resorts to the sort of hangdog heroism he can do in his sleep. What a lifeless film.