After a lifetime as downtrodden wife, ageing May (Anne Reid) is at first totally lost when her husband, Toots (Peter Vaughan) dies, but when she moves in with her single mum daughter, Paula (Cathryn Bradshaw) for the convenience of both, she begins to feel sensations like life. Even though she’s a grandmother, she takes a serious fancy to Paula’s married lover, Darren (Daniel Craig), but the affair has dramatic consequences. For one thing, her presence draws out Paula’s long-harboured sense of disapproval, even neglect, by her mother, and the family dysfunctionality extends to May’s son, Bobby (Steven Mackintosh) on whose house Darren is working as a builder.
Review by Louise Keller:
A story about endings and new beginnings, there’s more than a hint of irony in The Mother, a stimulatingly perceptive, reflective and provocative exploration. This is a film whose nuances will especially be appreciated by women, who will easily recognise the truths in the observations of Hanif Kureishi’s deft script.
Director Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Changing Lanes) uses a keen eye to quickly establish the characters and the environment in which they live. The film uses its contrasts effectively: age and youth, the city versus the peace outside the bustle. Anne Reid’s May, whose entire life was spent nurturing her family, is an outdated breed. No longer is her contribution recognised as something as worthwhile as forging a career. When she meets Darren, it is certainly not lust at first sight. She is disapproving – in a snobbish way - of the fact he’s a lowly builder, and tells her daughter with whom he is having an affair, she can do much better. But that’s before her passions are unleashed…. There’s no miraculous makeover, but the glint in her eye and spring in her step are undeniable, as she discovers the sexual liberation that has been dormant all her life.
The most heartfelt moments are between mother and daughter, as Paula spews out every bottled up resentment she has ever felt, accusing her mother of never believing in her, or giving her the confidence she needed to be successful and happy. Bobby’s relationship with his mother is one of resigned platitudes, as he goes through the motion of what he believes is his duty. May has lived and breathed her entire life bound by the iron-clad bonds of duty and loyalty, and now for the first time, she discovers that there is another world out there. Her perspective changes – even the panoramic view from the London Eye somehow looks different. The relationships unravel, and there’s some wry humour as the love triangle becomes more and more precarious and under threat of being exposed.
Performances are well judged, with Reid credible as the downtrodden widow and mother, Daniel Craig earthy and sexual as Darren, and it’s easy to relate to Cathryn Bradshaw’s neurotic Paula and Steven Macintosh’s Bobby, who is really just looking for a peaceful life.
We first meet May and Toots as they prepare to visit their grownup children and grandchildren in London. ‘You’ll have me sweating like an old donkey,’ Toots complains as May fusses over him, as he dons thermal underwear. ‘You know how cold you get in London,’ she reassures him. Leaving behind the comfort of symbolic slippers, May and Toots negotiate the train, the escalators, the tube, the crowds, to find themselves ill at ease in their son’s home, where domestic bliss does not reign, and the children are not particularly interested in grandparents beyond the superficiality of presents.
Toot’s death is the catalyst for change for the whole family, although the only person who realises it is May. Unable to face her old life and what the future holds, she struggles to cope. ‘Don’t be difficult,’ begs her son. ‘Why not?’ she asks. And why not indeed? The
mother is the carer, the nurturer and the one to blame when anything goes wrong. No one expects a rebel, who elects seduction as an option and chooses an unexpected turning in the road of life.
Capturing the flavour and mood not only reflected in family relationships, but also of London, The Mother is a thought provoking and confronting film. Emotions are skilfully woven through all the relationships. If emotions were colours, The Mother would display a technicolour palette.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
After an irritating, noisy and contrived but extended start, The Mother gradually wins some respect as a study of a dysfunctional family, but it isn’t the complete work that one expects from this talented writer.
The three central characters – May, her grown up daughter and her lover Darren – dominate the screenplay and the film, and the other characters are mere wallpaper. The systematic but piecemeal revelations about the daughter’s resentment towards her mother are spoken of, but we don’t have any sense of reality about these, which is rather like hearsay tension – it’s second hand.
On the plus side, there are some sharp observations about family, old age, parenting and even house renovating in London, and a well handled set of sex scenes involving grandmother May and her relatively younger lover. But the only character we can truly understand or recognise as real is Paula, the others are puppets of the writer.
All the same, Daniel Craig does a magnificent job with his role as the separated husband and father, a lost soul who collides with this broken family. His metamorphosis into a real shit in the final act is a trifle hard to swallow, as are some of May’s emotional summersaults; not because they are unbelievable per se, but because these elements seem grafted on to the characters. For all its flaws, The Mother is a compelling film, and is worth struggling with.
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MOTHER, THE (MA)
CAST: Anne Reid, Daniel Craig, Cathryn Bradshaw, Steven Mackintosh, Anna Wilson-Jones, Oliver Ford Davies, Peter Vaughan
PRODUCER: Kevin Loader
DIRECTOR: Roger Michell
SCRIPT: Hanif Kureishi
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Alwin Kuchler
EDITOR: Nicolas Gaster
MUSIC: Jeremy Sams
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark Tildesley
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 1, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Magna Pacific
VIDEO RELEASE: December 8, 2004