Mrs Lowry & Son (3 stars)

Mrs Lowry & Son

EIFF 2019: Acting titans Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave bring substance to this LS Lowry biopic

The son of the title is LS Lowry, the Lancashire artist whose name is synonymous with the 'matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs' celebrated in the Brian and Michael song about his paintings. Played by Timothy Spall, Lowry is a meek, often miserable figure, dominated by his bedridden mother Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave), and this film from seasoned theatre director Adrian Noble mines pathos from their conflict.

Lowry is introduced on the cusp of success. A letter has arrived from London, and there's a promise of a gallery show. Elizabeth sees little point; she's immune to the vivid charms of his factory and street scenes, and only pays attention when a neighbour shows interest in his work. Keen to set aside his humble existence as a Salford rent collector, Lowry sees a chance for personal recognition, but his mother's support is fickle, and his sense of his own worth is affected by her negativity.

Set almost entirely in one bedroom, Mrs Lowry & Son features a script by Martyn Hesford that feels more like a radio or stage play; without any fresh insight to invigorate the clichés of downtrodden artistic lives, the characters feel both familiar and stale. Yet Spall and Redgrave are two titans of British acting and bring substance to the arguments: Spall switches from being a dutiful son to railing with frustration at his mother's lack of kinship, while Redgrave manages to make Lowry's mother his harshest critic without making a monster of her.

But the drama takes so long to crystallise that, by the time it finally arrives, it's almost too late. 'I haven't been cheerful since 1868,' murmurs Elizabeth and, despite title cards suggesting a happy resolution was round the corner, Noble's film may leave audiences with a similarly downcast feeling.

Screened on Sun 30 Jun as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2019. General release Fri 30 Aug.

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