Film Reviews

THE MOTHER

By • May 28th, 2004 •

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QUOTE: A bold, challenging performance by Anne Reid.

In the opening scenes of THE MOTHER, director Roger Michell does not let us get in close. We are observing a distant, unemotional family. Elderly May (Anne Reid) and Toots (Peter Vaughan) are visiting their grown children in London. They are a long-married and well-to-do couple. Their busy son Bobby (Steven Mackintosh) has a glamorous life style: a thriving business, a new house, a wife and two children. Their daughter Paula (Cathryn Bradshaw) is a single mother and unpublished writer. May and Toots seem to be intruding on their children’s lives.

After an evening out Toots suddenly dies. May does not want to continue living in the country with other old people, so she returns to London and her children. Bobby has no time to spend with his mother. May goes to stay with Paula and is quickly assigned babysitting chores.

Going back and forth from Paula’s flat to Bobby’s house, May meets Bobby’s best friend Darren (Daniel Craig) who is building a solarium for him. One night May awakes to the sounds of Paula having sex with Darren. Paula confides in her mother that even though Darren is separated from his wife, has an autistic son and is living in his van, she wants to marry him. Paula asks her mother to talk to Darren on her behalf. May tells Paula she does not think that Darren is the right man for her.

May makes lunch for Darren and they spend the day together. They enjoy each other’s company. May kisses him. It is May who asks Darren to go to the spare bedroom with her. He easily accepts and they begin a very hot affair. May is ecstatic and tells him she didn’t think anyone would ever touch her again – except the mortician. Darren sexually thrills her.

May is in her 60s (Reid is 69 years old) and Darren is robustly in his 30s. He is bearded and sexy; she is a frumpy grandmother. Soon May is considering going away with Darren and paying off his debts. Paula and Bobby find out they are having sex in a rather surprising way. Paula cruelly and cleverly handles the situation.

This is as very raw film. May is unhappy, afraid, and alone. Her children do not like her. Paula even tells her she was a lousy mother who never gave her any encouragement. May’s desperation and confusion are understandable and at first we appreciate Darren’s kindness towards her. But what about Paula? May knows Paula wants Darren but she puts her own selfish needs before her daughter’s. When Paula fixes her up with an older man, May does go to bed with him but it is lousy, old people sex.

May has fallen in love with Darren. At this point, when May should be grateful to Darren, she becomes a fool. She tells him they can travel together. In a savage scene, Darren mistreats her, clarifying for us their sexual relationship.

The sex scenes between May and Darren are fascinating and beautifully done. We get it. We understand the lust between the two of them. Michell very subtly alters camera angles to soften May once she begins her affair with Darren. Thankfully, May does not go out and join a health club, get a make-over, and change her clothes. She remains a grandmother. However, Michell drapes her golden body in the starkly bare spare white bedroom. May is an incredibly complicated woman and this is a very adult love story.

Craig, who has now worked with Michell in ENDURING LOVE (co-starring Rhys Ifans from Michell’s NOTTING HILL), is absolutely wonderful. He easily portrays a good man who seems to be very kind and understanding – until May unrealistically tries to push their relationship.

I do not understand why May rejected an older suitor or started to think she could have a long-term affair with Darren. Why didn’t May care about hurting her daughter and embarrassing her son? Hopefully, this small British import will not be neglected this award season and Reid will be properly recognized for her daring, emotionally strong performance. This is a film that stays with you.

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