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The Mother
cast: Anne Reid, Peter Vaughn, Daniel Craig, Anna Wilson-Jones, and Steven Mackintosh

director: Roger Michell

107 minutes (15) 2003 widescreen ratio 16:9 Momentum DVD Region 2 retail
[released 24 May]

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by John Percival
The Mother is a controversial romantic drama that walks on very sensitive territory. May (Anne Reid) and Toots (Peter Vaughan) are a retired couple visiting their grown up children in London, when Toots suffers a fatal heart attack. May returns home, but is unable to live in the house without her husband. Her son Bobby takes her back to London to live with his family and friction begins between May and her daughter-in-law, Helen. She then moves in with her daughter Paula. Feeling her life is over May tries to adapt until she falls for Darren (Daniel Craig), the man who is renovating her son's house, sleeping with her daughter and also half May's age.
   Coming from the director of Notting Hill, Roger Michell, The Mother is quite awkward and not really funny. It is a cynical, sweeping indictment of the way people live busy selfish lives, of the way society disregards its elder members and also of social taboos regarding sex between generations especially when the old generation is female. It is designed to make us take stock of long held traditions and ultimately suggest that it is okay to break them, regardless of the cost. May and Toots appear the standard suburban retired couple on a visit to the children. Their son, Bobby, is a typical married yuppie and the daughter, Paula, a neurotic single mom struggling to be a writer. May, herself, spent her life as a badgered housewife. Bobby appears almost entirely without emotion and his family life is tenuous at best. Paula holds writing classes to inspire other people to do something she cannot succeed at herself, plus she blames it all on her mother. It borders on soap opera territory but manages to rise above it.
   As May moves in to live with her daughter, and then awkwardly embark on an affair with her daughters 'married' lover, it does seem odd just how quickly it happens after Toots' death. It seems insensitively quick for someone who is supposed to be grieving. We are led to believe that May is at the end of her life simply because she is widowed and with grown up children, but her whole sexual awakening at the hands of Darren starts her on a new life where nothing is expected and anything is possible.
   The Mother is filmed in a beautiful, clean and uncluttered manner with one of the best scenes being on the London Eye, this sterile view does emanate a lot of sadness. The stark filming also applies to the sex scenes between May and Darren which are graphic and not really that pleasant. We are not supposed to enjoy it as it goes against the grain of the society we have grown up in. It is supposed to feel wrong regardless of May's betrayal of her daughter.
   There are also side issues about the nature of parents and maturity, we hold in our minds our parents as models of perfection and when they don't live up to it, illusions are shattered in a, sometimes, damaging way. Paula blames May for the shortcomings in her own life and her fragile state of mind is further disturbed by her mother's behaviour. However it does appear that the sexual encounters and alienating her children are apparently what May requires to become an independent woman, as at the end she returns home free to do what she wants.
   Written by Hanif Kureishi, The Mother was never going to be an entertainment film, the sexual themes are dealt with maturely without being sordid but it will also have more than a few people shifting uneasily in their seats while watching it. My guess is that the largest audiences this will film find will be university students dissecting it as part of an arts course. They will also benefit from the cast and crew interviews included on the DVD as an extra.

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