Understanding and empathy somehow materialize in this often harrowing depiction of squalor on the outskirts of Birmingham, England, as well as the margins of society during the Thatcher era.
Richard Billingham takes us into public housing in Britain’s Black County using his acclaimed still photograph background to noticeable dysfunctional effect in Ray & Liz adapted from his Ray a Laugh project.
The council flat in the West Midland could seem a mite embellished as the older Ray (Patrick Romer) wastes away as a hermitic sot. Billingham’s primary focus in two extended recollections (from the framing device) has his younger brother Jason and himself dealing with dereliction (from the impermissible way the acceptable standards) soaked in alcohol and miasmic cigarette smoke.
If the dramatic aspect of Billingham’s early years may be lacking the imagery reflects an honest impressionism into stark helplessness, despair and depravity, a youthful innocence, along with durability and curiosity is wrenchingly evident. 16 millimeter yellow-tinged lensing (with plenty of icky close-ups) boxed into a smaller aspect ratio gives the proceeding an intimacy that recalls the spirited aplomb of a Terence Davies, specifically his Distant Voices, Still Lives which had the late Pete Postlethwaite in a pivotal supporting role.
No matter what kind of distinctive stylings are presented the clear vitriolic, vituperative kitchen-sink the realism will be difficult to endure. Yet, Ray & Liz can still drop a penny amid the filth with odd poignancy as the cast’s fealty can’t be ignored. Justin Salinger and, notably Ella Smith make their ill-prepared parental presence known as the ‘younger’ titular characters. Also, Tony Way’s ‘soft’ Lol is the unfortunate feckless relative, while one of the most prominent ‘earlier’ episodes include an insolent Joshua Millard-Lloyd as Jason and the wheedling, boorish (friend?) lodger Sam Gittins as Will back when cassette recorder were still popular.