There are very few British working-class voices in modern cinema. It’s one area of representation which seems to have been lost in the mix. This is also the case when it comes to the depiction of poor families on the big screen. It’s a rarity, especially outside of the occasional low budget film. In Ray & Liz, Turner Prize-nominated artist Richard Billingham returns to his roots, focusing on a childhood growing up in a council house and memories of his parents.
Ray (Justin Salinger) and Liz (Ella Smith) live in a council flat with their two children Richard (Jacob Tuton) and Jason (Callum Slater) in 1970s Birmingham. Ray has been made redundant and Liz has invested his pay-off on an array of alcohol, which she’s carefully hidden. As Ray sinks into middle-aged alcoholism the domineering Liz becomes increasingly idle. The couple wallow in their own decay as their children are increasingly ignored and neglected.
Based on his own memories and photographs, Billingham allows us a glimpse into his childhood through a series of intimate vignettes and snippets. Perfectly shot in 16mm by Daniel Landin, we’re transported into his home and welcomed into the degradation. Whilst Ray & Liz could easily have been painfully unsympathetic and extremely difficult to watch, there’s an element of humour, sweetness and empathy which allows us to see their almost fatalistic descent into state sponsored poverty. It’s a beautifully crafted and meticulously made snapshot of life on the margins of society.
Ray & Liz screens at London Film Festival on 19 & 20 October.