The Mother Review
For just a few minutes right at the start, I got this horrible feeling that The Mother was going to be one of those films – Close My Eyes, Intimacy – about cold, unlikeable people, caught up in their own dull preoccupations with only a controversial taboo-breaking sex scene or two thrown in to lift it out of the ordinary, generate a few newspaper headlines and a few more ticket sales at the box-office, but The Mother surprisingly has actually a lot more to offer.
An old couple go to visit their son and daughter in London, but they are not there long when the father dies. The mother, May (Anne Reid) can’t bear the idea of returning home alone- she knows it will be the end of her - “If I sit down I’ll never get back up again. I’ll be like all the other old girls around here. And then I’ll go into a home”. She decides to remain in London until she can find her way again. Her presence upsets the household of her son, - both he an his wife are preoccupied with their businesses and haven’t time to look after her, so she stays with her divorced daughter Helen (Anna Wilson-Jones), a failed writer who is resentful of her mother for failing to ever have had an encouraging word for her. She is having an affair with a married man, Darren (Daniel Craig) – a builder who is working on her son’s conservatory. She asks her mother to see if she can find out what Darren really feels for her, if he is ever going to leave his wife, so that she can decide to stay with him or move on. However May, uncertain about her own position in life any longer, finds herself attracted to the much younger man.
Michell’s film, based on a screenplay by Hanif Kureishi, looks at various aspects of being a mother. It examines the circumstances of a woman who has lost her husband, is faced with a gradual decline into old-age, who has to re-evaluate her relationships with her children and what it means to be a mother while considering her own needs as a woman. It is not the themes, nor the extraordinary sex scenes between a young man and a much older woman that drive the film however, although they do give it substance – the film works primarily and is particularly good because of the script, the dialogue, the performances and the playing out of the situation. It’s a film to be watched, to be absorbed by, to fall into. Kureishi’s excellent script not only has a good ear for dialogue, it also captures the rhythms and the mannerism of that very non-confrontational English way of speaking – skirting around an issue that is potentially difficult or embarrassing, when both parties know exactly what is meant without it actually having been said. Every line is balanced and weighed for precise effect.
This type of subtlety in the script is also borne out in the performances, which are pretty much note perfect and in the case of Anne Reid, particularly brilliant – she clearly trusts that the script and the film are not exploitative, and brings a degree of sensitivity and humour to her character. The strengths of the cinematography also cannot be overlooked – once again the impressive work of Alwin Küchler (Morvern Callar, Code 46). The storyboarding of the film is impeccable – the perfectly composed shots focussing on small details with appropriate use of warm and cold colour schemes. The overall look and a beautiful level of film grain create a strong visual language for the film and its situations.
At the end, we don’t feel manipulated and don’t feel the characters or the actors have been exploited for the sake of controversy. The viewer is not led to sympathise with one person over another, to accept one viewpoint as being right or to believe that any of the characters’ actions are acceptable or not. The script puts forward these characters who are flawed, who have needs, who have their own individual ways of living their lives – each one of them looking for whatever it is they need to keep going.
The Momentum Region 2 release of The Mother presents a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer of the film with a very fine picture quality. In terms of light and contrast balance it is spot-on, with good colours and strong blacks that are detailed and have depth, even in dark night-time interiors. The cinematography is exceptional and has been sympathetically transferred, allowing the film’s natural negative grain, part of the whole texture of the film, to show but never break-up or crawl in backgrounds. There are a few marks and dust spots, but nothing really worth mentioning.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is strong and clear, mostly centre based, but making good and appropriate use of the surrounds when required.
Cast & Crew Interviews (22:04)
Producer Kevin Loader, writer Hanif Kureishi and director Roger Michell cover the script and the story and its themes; Anne Reid and Daniel Craig talk about their characters and their involvement in the film. The interviews are edited together and it flows well, although Kureishi is often edited down to soundbites when I think he would have more interesting things to say. Much better and much more informative than a full length commentary, although there is possibly a little too much analysis of the story, which doesn’t need to be explained.
An excellent trailer is presented in 1.85:1 letterbox, perfectly capturing the mood and content of the film, if being a little bit spoilerish.
The Mother tackles themes that are challenging for the viewer and extremely difficult to put across convincingly and realistically on the screen, but the filmmakers and the cast do so with deceptive ease. In terms of script, content, themes, performances and tone it doesn’t strike a single false note. A sensitive, absorbing and moving film, it gets a very sympathetic transfer to DVD with worthwhile as opposed to extensive extra features.