Mum’s List, 2016.
Directed by Niall Johnson.
Starring Rafe Spall, Emilia Fox, Elaine Cassidy, Ross McCormack, Sophie Simnett.
Based on the book of the same name, the film tells the true story of a mother leaving a legacy for her husband and sons when she dies of cancer.
Tissues at the ready for Mum’s List, the British weepie of the year. There won’t be a dry eye in the house although, for those reluctant to show their emotions in public, the over-loud soundtrack will disguise at least some of the snuffles.
It’s a cinematic memory box, about the real-life couple Singe (Rafe Spall) and wife Kate (Emilia Fox), teenage sweethearts who eventually married. They longed for a family and they had two boys, although a shadow clouded over their happiness when the older one was diagnosed with cancer. Even though he made a full recovery, it was an experience the family never forgot – and which made Kate’s discovery of a lump more alarming. When her illness became untreatable, she prepared for the time when she wouldn’t be there, making notes on things she wanted for her boys as they grew up – experiences, memories and values.
As a couple, they’re true soul mates, so when he starts thinking about dating again, you fear he’ll never find anybody else. Part of that is down to the portrait of Kate, which is a touch too idealized – the perfect wife and mother, loving, generous and selfless. Whatever faults she had, we never see them. But Singe wrote the original book and we’re looking at her through the eyes of his memories. We could do without the scene where she spells out her bucket list direct to the camera. Not that there’s anything wrong with it as such – it’s a nicely executed monologue by Emilia Fox – but we watch the list throughout the film as handwritten captions. It just doesn’t add much to the story.
Rafe Spall is perfectly cast as Singe. When he cries – and he does, often – you just want to hug away his pain. And you’ll probably cry with him as well. He’s eminently likeable, perhaps not the sharpest or most articulate of men, but genuinely caring and a devoted husband and father. You’d forgive him just about anything.
The film has its moments of darkness, capturing the bleak humour that often goes with serious health problems. “I didn’t think I’d get bigger boobs this way,” Kate reflects, after she’s been given her diagnosis, knowing that a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery lie ahead. It’s a defence mechanism and a truthful one. And it also reflects the film’s implicit emotional health warning. The subject matter may be too close and personal for comfort for some, although it could be equally cathartic for others. Either way, it’s not a film to rush into.
The soundtrack seems to have been chosen to wring every last tear out of you. It’s far too melodramatic and there are scenes that would have been far more powerful without any music at all – Singe’s final rush to the hospital for one. But those are the only times when it goes over the top. While Mum’s List isn’t exactly subtle or restrained, it doesn’t wallow in sentiment either. And, ultimately, it’s uplifting and optimistic. Like Kate herself.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★