The final film in the programme for the Edinburgh International Film Festival is Mrs Lowry and Son, directed by Adrian Noble and starring Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave as a mother and son combo. The film follows Spall who plays L. S. Lowry, a famous British painter that the uncultured swine writing this has never heard of. It should have made for interesting viewing though, as it follows the strenuous relationship of Mrs Lowry (Redgrave) and her son who she seems to simultaneously loves and disproves of immensely.
I say “should have made for interesting viewing” for a reason because unfortunately, the film feels horribly misjudged and incredibly awkward. The film opens on Lowry standing in Lancashire street staring into camera reciting what appears to be a poem about how he is “just a man who paints”. These crop up all over the film and I couldn’t quite put my finger on if it is the delivery of the line from Spall or the sound design that makes the scenes so incredibly quiet, but they are laughable. So laughable in fact that the press screening I was in let out a small chuckle.
The central story surrounds the relationship between the mother and son. Redgrave gives a good performance as Lowry’s fragile and emotional mother who disapproves of his mannerisms, choices and especially the painting. Despite being laughable there are a couple of quite tender and beautiful scenes in the film that land almost perfectly, in particular ones where you feel as if Mrs Lowry is coming around on the idea of her son being a professional painter and going to exhibitions. You can feel the hope and pride in Spall’s character radiate off him then the disappointment and regret bleeding through the screen when his mother snaps out of it. It seems to be implied that she has a mental health condition such as bipolar or something along those lines but its never really explored.
There is actually a lot of unexplored territory in the film, much of which is set up and then never thought about again. The next-door neighbours, in particular, feel like they should be serving a major part of the story, they are merely mentioned by the mother as being elite and who they should aspire to be but are barely seen, almost as if there were scenes missing from the version I saw. Every part of the film feels awkward and unfinished which makes for some painful viewing. Especially the opening and closing scenes where titles feel tacked on and the film just finishes, in a way out of nowhere, with a simple “the end” and then a five-minute look around at his real world art gallery, as he did go on to become one of Britain’s most famous painters. The film then finishes as it begins, in a way that’s probably supposed to provide full circle but really feels like a parody of some kind, with Mr Lowry saying he is “just a man who paints”.
Overall, the film has a couple of redeeming scenes and the performances from Spall and Redgrave are good for the most part but, it is let down by uneven editing and script work that make the film feel awkward and almost disjointed.