Opening May 9, 2019
Directed by: Richard Billingham
Writing credits: Richard Billingham
Principal actors: Ella Smith, Justin Salinger, Patrick Romer, Deidre Kelly, Tony Way, Sam Plant, Joshua Millard-Lloyd
This movie is based on the childhood of Richard Billingham, a successful photographer who grew up in the Seventies in Thatcher’s Britain. The popularity of his book, Ray’s a Laugh made him consider making a film about the characters portrayed in it, who just happen to be his parents. The result is Ray and Liz and a look at the severely impoverished childhood he endured.
Mr. Billingham’s movie is very much the work of a visual artist rather than a writer and this works against the movie as it offers no explanation of how his characters came to be what they are. There are too many wasted minutes watching, for example, a fly buzzing around a naked lightbulb or the grizzled old man Ray (Patrick Romer) waking up and drinking beer for breakfast.
The movie is dominated by the characters of the title. Liz (Ella Smith) is Richard’s mother, an idle, belligerent, foul mouthed creature who spends her life smoking and doing jigsaw puzzles and decidedly not looking after her sons. Ray (Justin Salinger) is equally lazy and seems to be cowed by his wife’s permanently simmering anger. He had been employed at some point in his life because he had some redundancy money which was spent on bottles of spirits.
Young Richard (Sam Plant) is a quiet, distant figure in the movie shown possibly doing his homework but his younger brother Jay, first seen as a neglected toddler, is later taken into care. Some of the few words Richard speaks in the movie are to ask if he too might be taken into care.
If Ray and Liz had been made by a film maker such as Ken Loach we would have a clearer insight into the lives of the Billinghams and their neighbours. Instead we have a series of events which do nothing to help us understand the family while showing us deprivations caused by outside influences as well as those caused by themselves. William (Tony Way) their lodger is a thug who plays a cruel practical joke but why he does it or what happens to him is never explained. Jay (Joshua Millard-Lloyd) disappears into his foster home but he is never mentioned again. Most of all we want to know how Michael escaped his world of poverty and grew up to become a successful photographer. The story of how this came about would have made a far more satisfying movie. And yet, those lingering images of abject squalor remain in the mind, along with the sense of oppression and hopelessness, long after the movie has ended. (Jenny M.)