If you’ve seen Richard Billingham’s photos of his family, which he published more than 20 years ago, this film will bring them back to eerie life. If you haven’t, hold tight.
‘Ray & Liz’ are Billingham’s mum and dad. He’s a drunk; she’s a drunk’s angry wife. Flitting back and forth in time, this film explores how individuals, then families, then communities, fall apart, and what you can do with the result. In Billingham’s case, you create a quietly enraged, ultimately compassionate portrait of people who have nothing. Although sometimes sympathetic, ‘Ray & Liz’ is a morally bleak film: often repellent in its exploration of the selfishness and cynicism that come with despair. Ray’s ‘soft’ brother Lawrence is tricked into drinking the couple’s booze stash, so Liz beats him up. Billingham’s younger brother Jason is completely neglected: wandering the streets and the zoo in his filthy school uniform and nearly dying of hypothermia after sleeping rough in November.
How much of it is fiction isn’t clear, but perhaps that doesn’t matter. These figures are archetypes of an England that’s fucked. Most families don’t get as tragically dismantled as Billingham’s, but they all have things locked within them you will recognise here. Above all, ‘Ray & Liz’ shows that isolation is something that lies in wait in the shadows of this country. Something that we should all fear.