Mum’s List (2016) review and interview with Niall Johnson, Emilia Fox and Singe Greene

Although its subject matter is familiar territory in film, Mum’s List is unique in the sense that the story itself is unique and true. Adapted from St John (Singe) Greene’s autobiographical book of the same name, the story focuses on Singe (Rafe Spall) and wife Kate (Emilia Fox), who was diagnosed with cancer only a few years after their young son’s battle with the disease. But Kate prepares by compiling a collection of notes and life lessons for her family after she’s gone. Just hearing the synopsis can have audiences dabbing their eyes, but Mum’s List is a whole lot more than just a tear-jerker.

Director Niall Johnson’s true story drama is so understated and realist that it felt like, at times, I was watching a home filmed video. The story is personal to him: “I knew Kate in the last eighteen months of her life, so I knew the story way before the book. Movies were moving in on the story and Singe said “why don’t you do it?” I thought I was a bit too close and movies can mess things up. But as Singe and Rachel Murphy were writing the book I realised they were helping me find my way through what it was about the story that would make a hundred minute film. It was in Kate’s list. The book follows Singe of course, but the movie had to follow Kate.”

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Johnson glides us through the story, using the narrative to naturally flow back and forth from present day to past moments and memories. This enables an audience to grasp what kind of person Kate was and show that she’s not just defined by her illness. Brilliantly played by Emilia Fox, Kate is a loving mother, wife and friend, and has an incredible zest for life. “It was a huge responsibility being asked to play Kate, but a huge honour as well. I relied very heavily on Singe himself to talk me through every scene in the film. We sat in the pub and talked for a couple of hours and cried for a couple of hours.”

Emilia breathes life to Kate, and brings an element of subtlety, leaving out the melodrama. Similarly, Rafe Spall plays Singe with the same subtlety and he very much pulls us through the movie. Both actors give genuine, heartfelt performances and carry the film through it’s absolutely devastating and upsetting scenes.

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Being from Bristol and having a lot of family in the West, seeing Mum’s List filmed on location in Clevedon was incredibly exciting for me and is something that the film really takes pride in and Singe Greene definitely does too. “I really wanted it to be a British movie. I’m very proud of where I live and I hope we put it right on the map.” The scenery shots slotted into the movie are truly stunning and picturesque like from a postcard, all thanks to Director of Photography Eden Bolter, who’s recently been nominated for BAFTA’s 2016 Breakthrough Brit award.

Mum’s List, as a whole, is very understated, pulling away from Hollywood melodrama. Despite it’s subject matter, the film oozes positivity; everything down to the production design is bright and shining to reflect Kate’s personality even when she was ill. Mum’s List is a cruel and frank reminder that life is too short, so love too much and care too much. Its a heartbreaking watch at times, but altogether an uplifting, positive journey.

Mum’s List is in cinemas now!

mumslist-njef Full interview will be posted soon!

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