In Ray & Liz, artist Richard Billingham uses his own childhood memories as the basis for an evocative portrait of poverty and domestic discord in Thatcher’s Britain. Drifting between the 1980s and some period closer to the present day, it depicts the reclusive, alcoholic Ray (Patrick Romer) reflecting on family life. Two vignettes follow, revealing a younger Ray (Justin Sallinger) and his chain-smoking wife Liz (Ella Smith) doing a terrible job of raising their two sons. The first of these episodes, which involves a learning-impaired relative, a toddler and a sadistic lodger, is both mordantly amusing and unbearably tense, occasionally bordering on misery porn. But stick with it, as Billingham ultimately pulls off something quite remarkable, eliciting sympathy for characters that, at first, seem irredeemable. Meanwhile cinematographer Daniel Landin (Under the Skin) favours tightly-framed, forensic close-ups, lending the drama an extraordinarily tactile quality. The result is both a vital addition to the canon of British social realist cinema, and one of the most impressive directorial debuts in recent memory.
Ray & Liz | Directed by Richard Billingham (UK 2018) with Ella Smith, Justin Salinger. Starts May 9.
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