Updated: Wednesday, 1st April 2020 @ 9:43pm

Review: Ray & Liz @ HOME, Manchester

Review: Ray & Liz @ HOME, Manchester

| By Harry Benbow

A jar of discarded cigarettes. A crate of booze, paid for with redundancy money. Scarred wallpaper. Piles of mail, soaked by dog urine. Empty bottles of home-brewed ale. Stained lightbulbs.

These are the images that fill Richard Billingham’s directorial debut Ray & Liz, and you'd be right in thinking it’s a fairly miserable affair.

The semi-autobiographical story tells three tales from the Billingham family across the 80s. We start and finish with an older incarnation of Richard’s dad Ray (Patrick Romer), alone and silent, in the previously busy flat, his mattress indented from the repeated movement reaching out for more potent looking home brewed ale.

The outside world is presented as loud and abrasive, rain pours and fireworks bang, whilst the inside of the flat seems a sanctuary, protecting Ray from the reality of the world, and the reality of his life - alone.

This conflict, between the confines of the two buildings the Billinghams live in and the outside world, courses through every fibre of the film.

In the earliest vignette, we see Uncle Laurence (Tony Way) looking after Richard’s younger brother Jason at the family house. He has to deal with the manipulative lodger Will (Sam Gittins), who convinces him to dip into Ray & Liz’s collection of spirits.

What follows is hard to watch, as he becomes gradually more drunk, more vulnerable. The tight 3/4 format traps you in the room. You are forced to watch as the camera focuses on glasses being filled, and quickly emptying.

We are placed in a council flat for the other two tales, and the walls close in even further. Jason is older, and spends his time aimlessly watching TV and eating beetroot sandwiches.

He gazes out of window, before dropping one of his mother’s many figurines through the tiny opening. On the surface an act of boredom mixed with silent rebellion, with his parents not awake to witness it, it seems to be Jason’s way of venturing to the outside world.

He later takes a trip to the zoo, and a friends house, sparse moments of fleeting joy, which to many may seem like small moments, but they couldn't be bigger when compared to the overbearing walls of the flat.

The 16mm film gives the images a hazy tinge of smoke stained nostalgia, but these aren't memories to look back on particularly fondly.

We see Jason sleeping rough one night, we sit as if in the room as a family friend comes round and picks from the jar of cigarette butts collected from the floor, and we gaze on as the electricity cuts out, and the parents choose between topping up the meter or making an urgent phone call for more money.

But this certainly isn't a ‘woe is me’ autobiographical tale, it’s not emotionally manipulative in the slightest, instead it shows these events as a reality.

It’s unflinching in its portrayal of his father and mother, their mundanity is almost endearing. This look into the director's childhood might be ultra personal, but it’s in equal parts universal of problems in families all across Britain, with it’s unrelenting showing of poverty, and the very real problems it causes, beyond the material.

Ray & Liz can be seen at HOME, Manchester from March 8