This film, set just three and half miles down the road from me, has the wonderful message that there is always beauty in everything. Even bare bottoms (there seem to be a lot of these on our screens lately) in Agecroft 🙂 . And mill chimneys, railway viaducts, canal bridges, and, of course, people. On the face of it, it’s a rather bleak film about a woman who can’t accept her loss of financial and social status, and deals with it by controlling and constantly putting down her lonely middle-aged son. But there is that message there; and it’ll particularly mean a lot to those of us who know Pendlebury, Agecroft, Farnworth, Chorlton-cum-Hardy and the other places mentioned, even if we don’t remember the days when Victoria Park was a posh area! Superb performances from Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave. They even do pretty well with the Lancashire accents!
They aren’t today’s Manchester/Salford accents, but accents, like places, change over the years, and they work for the 1930s. It’s 1934, and L.S. Lowry is living in Pendlebury with his mother Elizabeth – working as a rent collector, and painting in the attic in his spare time. I’m not good with art, but I can always tell a Lowry. Matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs 🙂 . We’re proud of him. The Lowry Centre is – obviously! – named after him. There are songs about him. There’s even a statue of him in Sam’s Chop House. Unfortunately, his mother wasn’t very proud of him. She resented the fact that the debts left by his late father meant that they had to leave Victoria Park, quite a posh area in the 1930s, and move to a two-up two-down in a working-class part of Salford (I’m not quite clear on how a two-up two-down comes to have an attic, but never mind), she saw her son as a disappointment, and she controlled and dominated him.
I don’t think she was as bad as she’s shown here, and I don’t think he was anything like as downtrodden as he’s shown here; but it works for the sake of the film, and there was certainly a fair amount of truth to it. The film is almost entirely about the two of them. No-one else has more than a handful of lines, and much of the action takes place in her bedroom, which she rarely leaves. They even eat their tea in there. She stays there all day, whilst he goes around the area working as a rent collector. She complains about his job, even telling him to wash his hands when he gets in, and demanding to see if they’re clean as if he were a little boy. And she keeps on telling him that his paintings are no good. It’s partly to put him down, to knock whatever confidence he’s got, but it’s also because most of them are of the industrial landscape and its people, our people, and she doesn’t want that – she doesn’t want the life, and she doesn’t want the depictions of it.
But he sees the beauty in it all. The Hovis advert streets. I’m not sure where that was filmed: nowhere in Salford actually looks like that! Looking down on the mill chimneys of Bolton from the moors. The canals. The railway arches. The miner who works at Agecroft Colliery – which was about two and a half miles from me, and, like all the other Lancashire collieries, is now closed – having a bath in the back yard and then getting out of it. The woman with a beard. He says that he paints, and he paints what he sees. And it’s beautiful.
I mean, obviously industrial Lancashire is beautiful 😉 . We all know that! But he’s got the gift of seeing beauty in everything. At the moment, it seems as if too many people want only to see ugliness in everything. I’m so upset about Bury FC being kicked out of the league. L S Lowry would be too, if he were still alive. He knew that there was beauty in going to a football match, even if he did support City! But the beauty in it was all the support from fans of other clubs, and all the people talking about community and history and heritage without some sneering avocado-eater from Islington or Notting Hill calling them racists. It so often seems now that people want to see hatred and ugliness in everything that anyone else says or does, and in every little thing that they see around them. Why do people have to be like that? Walk around the streets, look around you, look at the people around you, and see the beauty there.
She couldn’t – she didn’t even leave the house, and all she could see was disappointment. He wanted so badly to please her, but he couldn’t. But he’s pleased so many other people. And he’s reminded us that there is always beauty all around us – and that’s lovely.