MUM’S LIST (UK/12A/101mins)
Directed by Niall Johnson. Starring Rafe Spall, Emilia Fox, Elaine Cassidy, William Stagg, Matthew Stagg
THE PLOT: Dying mother Kate (Emilia Fox) creates a wishlist of things for her husband Singe (Rafe Spall) to do with their two young sons after she is gone. As Singe struggles to come to terms with the inevitable and the heart breaking, he makes a vow to do everything his wife asked.
THE VERDICT: Based on the novel ‘Mum’s List: A Mother’s Life Lessons to the Husband and Sons She Left Behind’ by St John Greene, ‘Mum’s List’ tries to be a weepy tearjerker about a woman taken from her family too soon, but thanks to some muddled story choices and a lack of characterisation, ‘Mum’s List’ is not the affecting tale the filmmakers hoped for.
Rafe Spall leads the cast as the newly widowed Singe – short for St John – and while he has a knack for playing sadness, there is very little to define the character, other than being a husband and father. Emilia Clarke plays the dying Kate in flashback, and she tries her best to make Kate a warm character, but there is very little to her, other than the fact that she is sick. The rest of the cast features Elaine Cassidy, Matthew Stagg, William Stagg, Ross McCormack and Sophie Simnet.
The screenplay, adapted from St John Greene’s book by director Niall Johnson lacks structure, and this is the main problem with the film. The story begins at the end, and while this is fine in theory, there is no middle and proper ending to back this beginning up. As well as this, for a film called ‘Mum’s List’, there is surprisingly little focus given to the actual list or accomplishing the wishes that Kate had for her family. While Rafe Spall and Emilia Fox do their best with their roles, the characters are drawn so thin that their only defining characteristics seem to be the illness that afflicts Kate and once affected their young son.
As director, Niall Johnson struggles to pace the film as the structure of the story is against him from the start. Flashbacks and the present day blend together until it is difficult for the audience to tell what is going on, and without the structure of the list to carry the film, the entire film turns into a surprisingly emotionally vapid mess.
In all, ‘Mum’s List’ should have been a tribute to the real life Kate Greene, who tried to leave structure for her family after she passed away. A flabby script that lacks structure destroys the film, however, and it is hard to root for or empathise with characters that are little more than names on a page. Stories like this have been done before, and to much greater effect.
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Weepies about how characters deal with impending cancer can either be touching and sensitive like last year’s charming Miss You Already. They can also be TV movie of the week fodder that somehow escaped the box and ended up on our cinema screens like Mum’s List. Judging by the completely empty screen that greeted this reviewer at a Friday night show, it’s unlikely that many will care about this story.

    Based on a true story (of course), it relates the story of everyday North Somerset couple Singe (Rafe Spall), Kate (Emilia Fox) and their two young sons Reef (William Stagg) and Finn (Matthew Stagg). Theirs is a very happy family, until one day Kate is diagnosed with incurable breast cancer. Singe and Kate take each day one step at a time, as chemotherapy takes hold. When the cancer spreads, Kate’s days become more numbered. As she slowly slips away, she sends texts to Singe with little pieces of advice on how to deal with life after she’s gone. When she dies, he assembles all her texts onto a sheet of paper which he dubs Mum’s List. It’s a list that he and his boys live by, as a coping mechanism…

    Based on the book by the man himself St John Greene and directed by Niall Johnson, Mum’s List is a little too similar to PS I Love You. Swap the dying character around, add two perfectly behaved children, a big dollop of syrup, several bags of sugar and voila… The result is a half-baked mess that tries hard to be earnest and sensitive, but instead comes across as cloying. It also tugs at the heart-strings in a manipulative fashion, rather than allowing you to follow Kate on her fateful journey to your own drumbeat. Flashbacks to Singe and Kate’s first encounter on a skating rink during their teenage years are unnecessary. We already know that they’re a committed and loving couple who are soulmates. This doesn’t need to be underlined in bold.

    It’s that element of spoonfeeding which loses the film a star. Films about cancer shouldn’t be bad per se. They’re trying to tell a story about a truly horrible disease that has blighted the lives of many people and their families. That’s something worth remembering. However, filmmakers should be careful about venturing into such waters. There are dangerous currents here which can send a film off course. Mum’s List isn’t that bad really. Kate’s nuggets of advice do have some meaning to them and are things we could all live by. Spall gives a good performance too as a grieving husband unable to move on with his life, though he’s been better before. However, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that Mum’s List really belongs as a Sunday night TV drama, where audiences might be less cynical and more forgiving. **