What’s your poi­son

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

MOTHER’S MILK ★★★

Di­rected by Ger­ald Fox. Star­ring Jack Daven­port, Adrian Dun­bar, Annabel Mul­lion, Diana Quick, Mar­garet Tyzack

Club, Triskel, Cork (Sun-Wed); IFI Dublin (Mon), 99 min For 20 years, the English au­thor Ed­ward St Aubyn has spat out a se­ries of beau­ti­fully writ­ten, poi­sonously bit­ter books. Pa­trick Mel­rose, the writer’s dam­aged pro­tag­o­nist, drifts an­grily from abused child to des­per­ate heroin ad­dict to per­ma­nently dis­ap­pointed hus­band. The books de­serve their ac­claim, but noth­ing about them cries out for cin­e­matic adap­ta­tion. Aside from any­thing else, their ap­peal has much to do with the au­tho­rial voice.

Ger­ard Fox, adapt­ing the fourth of the Mel­rose se­quence, gets past that last prob­lem by hav­ing the al­ways mel­liflu­ous Tom Hol­lan­der read out large chunks of the text as voiceover. It’s a mis­take. But Mother’s Milk is far from a to­tal washout. Jack Daven­port is well cast as Pa­trick and the late Marga- ret Tyzack is touch­ing as his fright­ened, age­ing mother.

Set in Provence, the film finds the hero fum­ing as mum plots to hand over the fam­ily’s hol­i­day res­i­dence to a new age Ir­ish conman (Adrian Dun­bar, ex­cel­lent). Re­turn­ing to old habits, Pa­trick sub­li­mates his rage into ca­sual adul­tery and deeply com­mit­ted al­co­holism.

On pa­per, it’s a lit­tle eas­ier to put up with the sheer wretched­ness of the characters. Ev­ery­body is loaded but ev­ery­body still feels hard done by. The rapier-sharp barbs add en­er­gis­ing, pun­gent ma­lig­nity to the drama. You wouldn’t want to hang out with th­ese peo­ple, but you might en­joy lis­ten­ing to them squab­ble from the other side of a fence.

Domestic read­ers who felt St Aubyn’s por­trayal of Sea­mus Dorke, the Ir­ish blar­ney mer­chant, was just the teen­si­est bit racist will be re­lieved to hear that Dun­bar sands off some of the “be­gor­rahs”. But Mother’s Milk still sets the teeth on edge in ef­fec­tive fash­ion.

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