Mother's Milk (15)


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The Independent Culture

It's sometimes heartbreaking to see a book you love chopped to size for the screen, even when it's done as competently as this one, of Edward St Aubyn's 2006 novel Mother's Milk.

The story emerges mostly intact: Patrick Melrose (Jack Davenport), his wife, Mary (Annabel Mullion), and their two sons are holidaying at their beloved family home in Provence for the last time.

Patrick's dementia-stricken mother (Margaret Tyzack) has disinherited him and bequeathed the place to an Irish charlatan who means to convert it into a New Age foundation.

The script, by St Aubyn and director Gerald Fox, conveys languor as well as anger, and certain performances – Adrian Dunbar as the sinister Seamus, Diana Quick as Mary's appalling mother Kettle – are devilishly right.

But so much is lost, too, notably the different, distinct voices of each character (the Melrose boys, especially), and also the play of savage drollery and exhausted compassion in its tone.

Tom Hollander's stolid narration is a fairly inadequate means of grouting the gaps. If you haven't read the book, this will seem a decent, slightly dull story of dispossession; if you have read it, you'll know what's gone missing.