An acerbic, astute comic drama about fidelity, family, and sexagenarian sex, The Mother isn't what you'd expect from the director of Notting Hill.
That the writer is Hanif Kureishi - veteran purveyor of suburban misanthropy - is less of a surprise given the picture's mordant wit and occasional didactic barbs. But the writer's cynicism is leavened by Roger Michell's light touch - this is funnier and more involving than either Kureishi's impossibly overrated My Beautiful Laundrette or occasionally beautiful My Son The Fanatic.
When May (Anne Reid) is widowed on a visit to see her son Bobby (Steven Mackintosh) and daughter Paula (Cathryn Bradshaw), she stays in London, much to their chagrin. It's not that they dislike her, she's just an inconvenience. "I can arrange for you to have counselling," her son offers. "Is that what people do, instead of taking an interest in their family?" comes the pointed, perceptive reply.
Time, it seems, is the one thing Bobby can't spare his mother, and she finds herself drawn to Darren (Daniel Craig) - the apparently easygoing handyman who's dating Paula and spending long hours around the usually empty house.
Sexual appetite and sympathy combine ("We'll be like that one day: no one wanting us") and the pair are soon spending passionate afternoons together - the thirtysomething lothario giving the sixtysomething May a spring in her autumnal step.
Inevitably, the romance can't last and the reactions of all further expose their selfish, narcissistic natures. It's a damning portrayal of western humanity, which runs the risk of being as hollow and callous as the people it portrays, but the cast give heart to the hopelessness.
Mackintosh is magnificent as the icy son, Craig as excellent as ever, and Reid remarkable as she segues from "shapeless old lump" to lovestruck wrinkly teen. It's also a beautifully composed picture, capturing London with a fresh eye, even as it portrays its inhabitants as pathetic - drowning in our affluence and apathy, slumped in self-pity, ignoring each other's needs even as we echo May's desperate sigh: "Dear God let us be alive before we die."