Review: Ray and Liz7th October 2019
For those uninterested in modern history, Ray and Liz may not be the film for you. Seeped deep in the impact of Margaret Thatcher’s cuts and miners strikes, Ray and Liz brings to light how tough living on the poverty line can be. The feature length directorial debut of photographer Richard Billingham provides ample material for a grimacing venture into the depths of a tough upbringing under financial stress and family fallouts.
Given that Billingham is a photographer, it’s no surprise that his work behind the camera as director inspires some truly beautiful shots. Little pieces of story come together and craft a narrative that is as ambiguous as it is certain in its heartfelt message. Leaping between frames of time, from the early days of the Thatcher years to the present day, we get to see a disparage of these characters, who have, for better or worse, struggled to adapt to their new found infirmities.
It’s a heavy hitting story, a real tearjerker for any of those that have even a tiny sediment of understanding for those in poverty or living on the edge. Justin Sallinger and Ella Smith work wonders as our titular character focuses. Seeing the out of work Ray and the hardened, tough as old boots attitude of Liz is a great pairing, and the two have a great deal of chemistry even amidst the stress their family is under. Smith in particular is a credit to the film, really bringing to life the troubles family life came under during the tumultuous years of the 1980s.
Working hand in hand with some brilliantly adverse camerawork, Ray and Liz relies on picturesque memories of Billingham, with a script that brings them to life in suitably enjoyable fashion. It’s hard to call it enjoyment though, it’s a piece that looks to tackle the idea of being through the looking glass. Presenting its subjects like an art exhibit for those who wish to experience or understand a tougher lifestyle, Billingham’s work does exactly that. Providing us reference points, real life memories of his own past and knitted tightly together with incredible performances, he brings his past back into the limelight.
Ray and Liz has inklings of 2017’s A Ghost Story, but the key difference is that Billingham’s movie has some purpose behind it. A heart hidden beneath layers of a tough childhood under Thatcher’s harsh Britannia. Ray and Liz is a silver lining, a brilliant film that has saved a somewhat dismal year for film. It captures an era of depression and desperation in such vivid and emotive ways, it’s hard not to feel emphatic for those that suffered through such a trying ordeal. A truly great piece of film, a hopeful sleeper hit that highlights a classism in the 80s that is still ever present to this day.