Firstly, the title of this film is interesting as it significantly places the mother before the renowned British artist L.S.Lowry, but also uses an ampersand instead of ‘and,’ as if we were about to see a film about a window-cleaning company, instead of a close examination of a dominating mother and her under-confident son locked in a troubled, codependent relationship. Written by Martyn Hesford and directed by Adrian Noble, who most recently directed the ensemble piece The Importance of Being Earnest (2015). After setting up his invalid mother in her bed each morning Lowry pounds the gritty streets of Pendlebury in Lancashire, collecting rents from unwilling tenants, before returning home to cook his and his mother’s dinner which they then eat in her bedroom. The meal finished, Lowry retires to his attic studio where he paints into the small hours, before repeating it all the next day.
But despite the verbal abuse Lowry receives from his overbearing mother Lowry is a committed artist, who not only knows what he is looking at, but importantly finds beauty and meaning in these rough streets. Likewise he is moved by the seemingly odd characters he finds around him, such as a bearded woman on a bus, or a coal miner taking a bath outdoors under the watchful eye of his wife, until he is clean enough to venture indoors for dinner.
This apparently simple man has found his subject among these ‘ugly’ factory chimneys and these rough people and his sense of purpose is stated quite simply as ‘I’m a painter; nothing more, nothing less.’
While we see a montage of Lowry at work in his studio near the end of the film, the artist competent and in control of his subject matter and medium, personally I would have liked to see more of what happened in the attic where Lowry escapes to each night to create his ‘unloved’ paintings, if only to leaven the often uncomfortable and sometimes overlong scenes between mother and son. Unlike his role as the corpulent Mr Turner (2014) Spall has shrunk himself to a whippet of a man in this film and it makes him appear all the more vulnerable under the unforgiving gaze of his formidable mother, played beautifully by Vanessa Redgrave.
Spall manages to convey a repressed and awkward personality via small awkward gestures, vividly conveying a deep sense of pain and frustration. When a letter arrives from an appreciative London art dealer Lowry is physically unable to show it to his mother and wraps it in brown paper before hiding it in the larder. When his mother does eventually see the letter she rips it to shreds, fearful of its potential to upset the delicate equilibrium of their lives. Shattered,Lowry rushes up to his attic and violently destroys his work. Building a bonfire from the remains, he is then unable to make a fire of his canvases should it impact on the neighbour’s laundry.