Adapted by writer Martyn Hesford from what was originally his radio play and then a two-hander for the stage, Mrs Lowry and Son very much shows its theatrical origins.
It is a study of the relationship between the middle aged painter LS Lowry (Timothy Spall) and his elderly, invalid mother Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave) who hasn’t a good word to say for his painting, which she regards as a mere hobby and a reminder in its subject matter of how she has fallen socially in the world. She makes much of the fact that due to the ineptitude of her late husband, she has been forced to move from the genteel area of Victoria Park in Manchester, where she was raised and end her days in the grotty, industrial area of Pendlebury, which so inspired her son.
As an insight into character, it is a skilfully written piece of work and predictably beautifully performed by Spall and Redgrave. There is a satisfying complexity about the characters and their relationship. Renowned theatre director Adrian Noble hasn’t however succeeded in making it cinematic.
The main action takes place in Elizabeth’s bedroom, where Lowry patiently cares for her despite her barrage of complaints. It is only at night that he is able to repair to the poky loft and do his painting. We could have done with more of this, showing him at work, as we saw when he played another artist, Turner, a few years ago.
When Noble tries to take the action briefly into the outside world or into flashbacks of the child Lowry with his young mother, which oddly have more the feel of the pre-war Edwardian era rather than the late Victorian years of his childhood, the scenes look more like illustrations added in rather than an integral part of the storytelling. There is though one very effective tableau of Lowry mixing with the workers coming out of the mill, where their action is frozen as he walks among their now static figures, observing.
We also yearn to see more of the actual paintings. Though that is partly compensated for in an epilogue set in the present day Lowry museum in Salford, where our hunger is at least partially satisfied.