Ray & Liz (5 stars)

Ray & Liz

Painstakingly personal kitchen sink drama from photographer Richard Billingham

Nominated for Outstanding British Debut at this year's BAFTAs, this kitchen sink memoir is the cinematic calling card of Turner Prize-shortlisted snapper Richard Billingham. It expands on and breathes life back into the autobiographical subject matter depicted in his photographs; with grisly fascination and no shortage of humour, he recalls an unhappy childhood spent with a physically imposing and fearsome mother and a scrawny, drunkard father, lived first in a rundown end-of-terrace, then climbing the walls of a council high-rise.

Set in the West Midlands, it recreates both Billingham's upbringing during the Thatcher years and his father's rank, ignominious existence in a single room decades later. Initially, he eyes his feckless parents (played in their younger years by Justin Salinger and Ella Smith, and in their older years by Patrick Romer and Deidre Kelly – aka 'White Dee' from TV's Benefits Street) and their squalid surroundings with an almost callous detachment, as if they are grotesque exhibits, before giving us glimpses of their frailty and regrets.

The film makes its obsession a level of griminess that seems quintessentially British, as stained net curtains flutter over dirty window sills, fag-ends abound and naff wallpaper peels. Working with ace cinematographer Daniel Landin (Under the Skin), Billingham hones in on the whiskers on his father's chin, the clenched fist of his bruiser of a mother, a wedge of tattered, unopened mail, the way a budgie hares back and forth on its perch. Black comedy comes courtesy of acts of mischief and rebellion: the reckless hijinks of a cruel lodger, chintzy ornaments dropped from an open window onto passersby.

Although Billingham takes a backseat in memories which centre on his younger brother Jason, they manifest his turmoil in a way that's artful, endlessly compelling and no doubt cathartic. Funny, and brimming with colour, character and eventually compassion, Ray & Liz represents film at its most painstakingly personal.

Selected release from Fri 8 Mar.

Ray & Liz

  • 5 stars
  • 2018
  • UK
  • 1h 48min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Richard Billingham
  • Cast: Patrick Romer, Deidre Kelly
  • UK release: 8 March 2019

Autobiographical film from Turner Prize-shortlisted photographer Billingham, focusing on the unhappy childhood he spent with his fearsome mother and scrawny, drunk father. Billingham manages to make the grimy setting artful, endlessly compelling and no doubt cathartic. Film at its most painstakingly personal.