Love resolutely fails to conquer all in The Mother, though in the film, as in life, what romantics call love often seems indistinguishable from a brew of despair, infatuation, loneliness, lust, and need. Directed by Notting Hill's Roger Michell from a script by novelist-screenwriter Hanif Kureishi, the film stars Anne Reid as a dowdy wife and mother whose husband dies unexpectedly during a trip to visit their preoccupied children and grandchildren in London. Though her self-absorbed kids exert little effort in hiding their lack of affection for her, Reid stays on in London, where her daughter (Cathryn Bradshaw) enlists her help in gauging the true intentions of Bradshaw's hunky, married lover (Daniel Craig).
Bradshaw's plan backfires spectacularly, however, when Craig and Reid strike up an unlikely friendship that leads to an even unlikelier affair. After suffering silently in the dungeon of joyless domesticity for decades, Reid begins to embrace life and undergoes a sexual awakening, but the limitations of her impossible affair quickly become apparent. While her children see her only as a mother, wife, free babysitter, and all-around burden, Craig sees her as a complicated human being. But the fearlessness and lack of concern for social mores that leads him to hop into bed with his girlfriend's mother ultimately feels like an extension of the reckless fatalism that leads him to consume any mood-altering substance within his grasp.
Harsh, unsparing, unsentimental, and uniformly well-acted, The Mother bravely and intelligently tackles subject matter widely ignored in cinemathe sexuality of a plain-looking woman edging toward the twilight of a life of quiet desperation. At the film's dramatic and emotional core is a fearless, richly textured performance by Reid, who gives her character's impossible obsession with Craig a tragic heft. Their bond is as tenuous as it is intense, and it threatens to destroy a family already on the verge of a meltdown.