Back in the days when theatre tickets were reasonable (we’re talking 2013 in this case) I used to see practically everything in Trafalgar Studio 2 – unless I really wasn’t keen on something – and because they would have a new show there every four weeks or so, I would pop in with such regularity that long-standing members of staff there still recognise me when I make the occasional visit, usually to review something. One of the many plays I saw there was Mrs Lowry and Son, a two-hander. Michael Begley played the painter LS Lowry, and June Watson played his mother, and she was almost terrifying in her takedowns of her son, who wasn’t commercially successful during his mother’s lifetime but persevered with his day job as a rent collector and spending the evenings doing his paintings portraying real life.
Fast forward to 2019, and with a night off from the theatre reviewing circuit, I thought I’d best make use of an underused cinema membership, to see this film adaptation. Vanessa Redgrave’s Elizabeth Lowry is comparatively softer on the big screen than her counterpart was in the theatre, though there were still audible gasps from the audience: she speaks plainly, and she’s one of those people unafraid to let it be known quite how much she despises her son. Theirs is a strange parent-child relationship, even now that the positions are reversed, such that he is now looking after her, and it seems to me that financial circumstances meant that she didn’t have much choice but to accept assistant from someone she so thoroughly disliked.
It is evident that he does love her, although this does verge on melodramatic, particularly in a huge meltdown that oddly turns out may not have happened after all. And what was with the final moments, basically advertising The Lowry, an exhibition space and theatre venue, promoted as being in ‘Greater Manchester’, which is technically true, but really, it’s in Salford Quays. It would have been okay to have merely pointed out that the place was named in his honour, but to then spend several minutes zooming in on the gallery spaces just seemed superfluous.
I liked it, but then I like plays – and this story doesn’t translate all that well to the medium of the motion picture. Mrs Lowry even suggests his son get out more – and the same could be said for the film itself, which spends rather too much time – for a movie – in her upstairs bedroom. It is, in a way, something of a missed opportunity to have focused so much on the dialogue and not enough on the cinematography.