Film Review: The Mother (2003)

Would you come to the spare room with me?” 

It is remarkable that even now, 10 years after it was released, it is difficult to name another film aside from The Mother which has dealt so openly with the sexuality of older people, specifically older women. Can it really still be something of a taboo subject? One would like to think not but a sneaking suspicion remains that this might just be the case. Thus this film, directed by Roger Michell from Hanif Kureishi’s story, is all the more special, not least because it is also a rather spectacularly good piece of work.

Anne Reid plays May, a Northern grandmother in her sixties who finds herself bundled down to London where her two children live, after the sudden death of her husband. But metropolitan life leaves her nonplussed and in the face of her children’s disinterest in her welfare over the dramas of their own lives, she finds herself spending more and more time with Daniel Craig’s Darren. He’s building a conservatory for her son and is sleeping with her daughter, but an irresistible connection grows between the pair which eventually turns into a sexual affair, the fallout from which scatters its shockwaves far and wide.

For all the shock value of the sex, Kureishi and Michell ensure that the most uncomfortable thing about the whole affair is the utter dysfunction of this fractured family unit, thus any kind of connection providing a much needed respite from the monstrous self-obsessed nature of Cathryn Bradshaw’s needy daughter and the frustrated disinterest of her son, Steven Mackintosh doing impotent rage well. And there is something remarkably stirring and indeed sensuous about the (re)discovery of May’s sexuality, there’s no pussyfooting around the issue or the portrayal of the act, making it a vibrant and vital part of this widow reclaiming her life. 

Reid is extraordinary throughout, and pitch-perfect casting. Had this film been made in the US (would that it could!) one knows that some kind of ageless Hollywood glamour-puss would have been cast on her place, but that would have been entirely wrong. In the best way, she looks like a mother, a grandmother, someone who has lived a sometimes hard life, ‘normal’ for want of a better term and yet somehow more than that, as the spark inside of her is nourished by the muscular frame of Daniel Craig and sets her up for whatever is to come next, no matter how vile her children turn out to be, in response to the realisation that their mother has sex.

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