Ray & Liz

Ray & Liz

Set in a squalid house in the midland’s of the 1970’s, alcoholic Ray (Justin Sallinger) lives a toxically co-dependant life with corpulent wife Liz (Ella Smith). Finishing each other’s disappointments with either a stubbed cigarette and another cup of tea, Ray and Liz depend on benefits with which to feed their two young boys, Jason and Richard. Swaggering into this collapsing structure comes Will (Sam Gittins), a cocksure adolescent who spies opportunity in their fragile tensions and weaknesses of easily-led neighbour Lol (Tony Way)…

… a smouldering portmanteau into a low rent past.

Director Richard Billingham’s debut feature is a smouldering portmanteau into a low rent past. Bleeding from the near present into Ray’s regrets and then back again, the cloying comforts of lives lost on nicotine and home-brew, trap all inside.

Whether craned over a lurid jigsaw puzzle or wielding her rage with a stiletto, Ella Smith’s Liz consumes your eye as readily as her next cigarette. A listless volcano, Liz’s is the temper is the one that always threatens to explode. Cowering  in the distant kitchen, Justin Sallinger’s Ray is her aching compliment. Ferrying in brewed appeasements which garner only the slimmest of acknowledgements, his scattered affections lie as untidily as Jason’s toys on the floor. 

Moving into its second half, ‘Ray & Liz’s’ narrative is more direct than the first. With its emphasis on young Jason, lost on the periphery of his parent’s attentions, his wastrel wanderings become the aching wound that threatens to burst. When the movie’s close comes, Ray’s realisation is tellingly couched in a Dusty Springfield lyric. Caught in the unguarded twilight of its reverie, disappointment finally claims its prize from both parents, as Ray & Liz’s dusty butterflies are eternally engulfed by their respective flames. 

With its unerring eye for detail, photographer turned director, Richard Billingham’s biographical portrait is one that lacks nothing for atmosphere. From every perched glance to every encircling smoke ring, Ray and Liz’s indifferences are suffocatingly rendered onscreen. A slow and stripped back tale, this is a drama whose glowering silences peel away at an unspoken dread before it finally falls.