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The Mother (2003)

It can take a lifetime to feel alive.

Rating: 5/10

Running Time: 112 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

While May (Anne Reid) and Toots (Peter Vaughan) are in London visiting their busy adult children, Toots has a heart attack and dies. Faced with the prospect of an inevitable decline all alone in her own home, May decides to move in with the family of her son Bobby (Steven Mackintosh), only to learn that she is not exactly welcome. Her self-absorbed daughter Paula (Cathryn Bradshaw), on the other hand, is happy enough to use May as a free babysitter while she tries to sort out her problems with boyfriend Darren (Daniel Craig), a builder who is working on Bobby's house.

Feeling lost and unwanted, May seeks refuge in a friendship with the much younger Darren, and when this friendship turns into a torrid sexual relationship, all the barely concealed hatreds and resentments in the family come out fighting.

Reminiscent of some of the work of Mike Leigh (but without the politics), 'The Mother' is a drama of family breakdown and domestic alienation, full of ghastly people and loveless liaisons. While May, really quite wonderfully portrayed by Anne Reid, is not the most appealing of characters in her self-delusion and willingness to be a victim, she is a virtual saint compared to the selfish monsters that surround her – and although the film focusses on her plight after the death of her husband, it is made very clear that long before Toots died, he and the family had drained away every last drop of May's freedom. Her quest for a new, independent life and love amongst a generation that does not want her is all too believable, even if her relationship with Darren is less so (although he, as it turns out, has his own motives for going along with it).

Inter-generational relationships are hardly a taboo when the elder partner is male, but apart from Hal Ashby's 'Harold and Maude' (and certain niche markets in porn), one rarely sees on-screen sex with an old woman ('a shapeless old lump', as May herself puts it) – and yet at least the sex she has with Darren is tender, and mutually pleasurable, unlike that she has later with the lecherous Bruce (Oliver Ford Davies), who is supposedly the 'right' age for her. In any case, the biggest taboo in this film turns out not to be the loving relationship between an old woman and a young man, but the violently hateful relationship between a mother and her daughter.

Director Roger Michell and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi previously collaborated to turn Kureishi's novel 'The Buddha of Suburbia' into a successful serial for British television, which is exactly where 'The Mother' also belongs, as periodic breaks for advertisements might well serve to cover up its somewhat plodding pace and occasionally aimless repetitions. As a portrait of an elderly woman trying to find a place for herself in the world, 'The Mother' is well-observed, and at times moving – but its naturalistic brand of domestic melodrama is better suited to a TV soap than to the big screen.

It's Got: Unflinching geriatric sex and vicious family drama.

It Needs: A faster pace, and a script which allows its other characters to be as human as May rather than reducing them to nasty caricatures. The drama too quickly gives way melodrama, which in turn drifts perilously close to farce - more attention to character might have prevented this.


'The Mother' is a nicely shot drama with a strong central performance, but despite its attempts to shock with some frank sexual scenes, there is something a little banal about the whole exercise. Why go to the cinema to see something that feels so much like a telemovie?