Richard Billingham

United Kingdom, 2018 / 107 min / English OV with French subt. (EN OV with FR subt.) / Drama

A portrait of grinding poverty and dysfunction in Thatcher’s Britain.

On the outskirts of Birmingham and the margins of society, the Billingham family performs extreme rituals and break social taboos as they muddle through a life decided by factors beyond their control. At times shocking and laced with an unsettling humour, three episodes based on director and photographer Richard Billingham’s memories and world-renowned photos of his parents, Ray and Liz, unfold as a powerful evocation of their relationship, its impact on Richard’s and his younger brother’s life, and the overall experience of growing up in a Black Country council flat.

Ray & Liz is a concentration of my own lived experience of growing up in a tower block council flat during Thatcher-era Britain. By sticking true to real life, lived experience and observation I want to recreate a world that can only have come about from my being a witness to it. […] In the early 90s I began photographing my father Ray, with the intention of making paintings. I grew increasingly interested in the photographs, in composition, mood, texture, shape and form. It was not my intention to shock, to offend, sensationalise, or be political, only to make work that is truthful. Ray & Liz is a natural progression from previous photography and video work about my family.” Director’s Statement by Richard Billingham


Mon 11/03 18:30 Ciné Utopia EN OV with FR subt. Public
Tue 12/03 20:30 Cinémathèque EN OV with FR subt. Public
Wed 13/03 14:00 Cinémathèque EN OV with FR subt. Public
Sun 17/03 21:00 Cinémathèque EN OV with FR subt. Public

“The British kitchen sink drama receives a welcome injection of texture, fragmentation and rhythm in Richard Billingham’s Ray & Liz, a highlight of the 2018 Locarno Film Festival competition. Largely retelling his own troubled childhood spent in Birmingham during the Thatcher era, the celebrated photographer and artist’s debut feature is by turns brutal, tender and bleakly funny. This is an off-kilter, obliquely topical portrait of how grinding poverty begets dysfunction. […] Even if Ray & Liz never steps outside of the hermetic world it portrays, it’s hard not to read its conspicuous mentions of Nazis, references to certain Conservative policies of the time and all-pervading atmosphere of desperation as some of the early symptoms of how the UK ended up in its current mess. Yet while the film pulls no punches in depicting the harshness of this past era and by extension the current one, its very existence suggests that escape is yet possible. If intelligence and tenderness could trump despair back then, perhaps they still can today.” James Lattimer, Sight & Sound, 5/10/2018

“Richard Billingham’s bleak feature-directing debut captures the claustrophobic loneliness of a couple cut off from everyone, including each other. […] It’s all very redolent of a past recalled without sentimentalism. But the contrast with Davies’ work is instructive. In Distant Voices, Still Lives there was sweetness to go with the cruelty; there were some community spirit and pub singsongs. Not here. Ray and Liz are marooned, cut off from everyone and cut off from each other. This is a tough film to watch, at once claustrophobic and open-ended or unfinished, leaving the audience with questions. It’s a brutal study of a family coming to pieces.”Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, 17/10/2018

“A pioneer of ‘squalid realism’, Turner prize-nominated artist Richard Billingham brings a distinctive sensibility to his debut feature Ray & Liz. A meticulously staged evocation of Billingham’s family life, it touches raw nerves, provoking reactions that range from revulsion to heartbreak.” Allan Hunter, Screen Daily, 5/08/2018

“Throughout both this film and Billingham’s earlier photographs, there is a palpable sense of affection and respect for the subjects, for their warmth and endurance, while still recognizing their inescapably grotesque qualities. […] But [Billingham’s] startling eye for the common made strange is very visible here, and hard not to hope that he’ll make further forays into filmmaking after this very auspicious debut with a work that feels so close and true to his earlier material. There is a finality to Ray & Liz, like the sound of a book closing.” Leslie Felperin, The Hollywood Reporter, 6/08/2018

“[T]here’s a raw tenderness even to the film’s most ghastly displays of social inequality and parental neglect, the sense of an artist not merely documenting his past, but reckoning with it. Embracing narrative cinema enables Billingham to insert a version of himself (at two different stages of youth) into the display, lending proceedings a sense of self-reflection distinct from that of his photographs. […] For all its familiar trappings from a strong school of British social realism, Ray & Liz stands as a uniquely moving work of self-identification and self-illustration, bristling with pride, anger and even some regret — for the general ugly state of things, certainly, but perhaps for a family he’s come to see, and shoot, a little differently over the decades.” Guy Lodge, Variety, 7/08/2018

“With Ray & Liz, Billingham’s first feature film, the larger cinematic context teased out by the artist’s portrait work is abundantly realized, with a unifying thread being the gritty celluloid and boxy aspect ratio that’s long been his signature. Revisiting and expanding on the autobiographical material of Ray’s A Laugh, Billingham has crafted a film that vividly conjures up the textures, sounds, and sensations of the squalid public housing units of Thatcher-era Britain. […] Ray & Liz generates pathos through its detailed attention to its characters’ attempts to find permanence and meaning in a fundamentally unstable reality. For all of Liz’s cursing and brashness, she’s endeared to us by her puzzle-making, painting, and knitting — all born out of an implicit desire to generate things of value by hand when monetary value is so hard to come by. And while drinking is often a way to forget, for Ray it seems to be an outlet to remembering. When life is a drudging, dehumanizing crusade, there’s an element of dignity in that.” Carson Lund, Slant Magazine, 31/08/2018

  • Grand Prix, Batumi International ArtHouse Film Festival, 2018 (Georgia)
  • Douglas Hickox Award – Best Debut Director, British Independent Film Awards, 2018 (UK)
  • Best Actress Award for Ella Smith, Batumi International ArtHouse Film Festival, 2018 (Georgia)
  • Silver Award for a Narrative Feature, El Gouna Film Festival, 2018 (Egypt)
  • Special Jury Prize, Locarno International Film Festival, 2018 (Switzerland)
  • Prix de l'expérimentation - Special Mention, Montréal Festival of New Cinema, 2018 (Canada)
  • Grand Jury Award, Seville European Film Festival, 2018 (Spain)
  • Golden Alexander for Best Feature-Length Film, Thessaloniki Film Festival, 2018 (Greece)
Cast & Credits
Ella Smith, Justin Salinger, Patrick Romer, Deirdre Kelly, Tony Way, Sam Gittins, Joshua Millard-Lloyd, Richard Ashton
Richard Billingham
Daniel Landin
Joakim Sundström
Beck Rainford
Primitive Film

Born in 1970, Richard Billingham is an English photographer and artist, filmmaker and art teacher. His work has mostly concerned his family and the place he grew up in the West Midlands. Billingham is best known for the photography book Ray's A Laugh (1996), which documents the life of his alcoholic father Ray, and obese, heavily tattooed mother, Liz. He made several short films, including Fishtank (1998) and Ray (2016). Billingham adapted the latter into his first feature film, Ray & Liz (2018), a memoir of his childhood. In 1997 he was the first recipient of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize (formerly called the Citibank Private Bank Photography Prize), he exhibited in the 2001 Venice Biennale and was shortlisted for the 2001 Turner Prize. His work is held in the permanent collections of Tate, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Government Art Collection in London.

  • 2018 – Ray & Liz
  • 2016 – Ray (documentary short)
  • 1999 – Playstation (documentary short)
  • 1999 – Ray in Bed (documentary short)
  • 1998 – Tony Smoking Backwards (documentary short)
  • 1998 – Liz Smoking (documentary short)
  • 1998 – Fishtank (documentary short)