The stark colours and scenes of North West England are the background for this intimate character study of L.S. Lowry (Timothy Spall) and his mother Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave). The complicated relationship that they had, that inspired Lowry to paint, yet was a massive drain on his mental strength as his mother disdains his efforts.

Set principally in the Lowry house he is looking after his infirm mother. Confined to bed she relies on him for everything. He has his job as a rent collector which he dutifully does and just as dutifully looks after Elizabeth. The opening scenes act as an introduction to their routine as they spar and banter about everything and nothing, though you can pick up certain tensions. Lowry then receives a letter from a London gallery who want to talk to him about exhibiting his paintings, thrilled he hides it.

As the film progresses it becomes clear that the situation between Lowry and his mother is not clear cut. Told through their conversations and flashback, we learn that the family were dumped on by father/husband who accumulated debts to such an extent that when he died, they had to sell their comfortable house and move to a poorer area.

A move that Mrs. Lowry bitterly resents having been living a comfortable middle-class life. Then to be dragged to the position she now finds herself is to her intolerable. That frustration at times taken out on her son whom she feels is wasting his time with his painting, something he’s been in doing for all his life whether taking sketches or drawings.

Yet Lowry paints because it’s a passion (every evening he takes to the attic to work) and there’s also a part of him that does so to please his mother. She however rejects his paintings and his work as virtually worthless, only for her to change her mind about one when a woman she considers higher quality takes an interest. Her hope is that they can strike a friendship and rekindle some of her previous life. These hopes are dashed and she takes this out on her son.

The hub of the film is the relationship between mother and son. One based on need, resentment, ambition, love and acceptance. Adrian Noble directs these scenes with great sensitivity and coaxing wonderful performances from Spall and Redgrave, from a rich script by Martyn Hesford, as the develop two very different characters who are so interdependent.

Elizabeth relies on her son for her physical needs while rejecting her son for everything else with at times blind cruelty. Lowry doesn’t crave her appreciation in return for his love, that is unconditional, just some recognition and the hurt of her words and actions are etched on Spall’s face.