Film review: ‘MOTHERING SUNDAY’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Mothering Sunday, which comes from director Eva Husson and is based on the Graham Swift novel, explores torrid passions lurking beneath the surface of rigid manners in the British upper class in the early 20th century.

The film focuses on young maid, Jane Fairchild (Australian actress Odessa Young) who works in the sterile and often tense household of the Nivens, Clarrie (Olivia Colman) and Godfrey (Colin Firth). The film traces Jane’s experiences over many years and particularly her intimate relationships with various men including Paul Sherringham (Josh O’Connor), the son of the Niven’s well to do friends and a later romance with Philosopher, Donald (Sope Dirisu). These, at times tragic, experiences provide fuel for her eventual career as a much-lauded writer (Glenda Jackson, in her first film appearance since 1990).

With this film, director Eva Husson effectively mixes the typical attractive and restrained style of a British period dramas with impressionistic touches featuring fragments of images, particularly of Jane’s striking facial features which recall a young Nastassja Kinski.  Given the period in which it’s set and its tendency to flit back and forth through time and through Jane’s various experiences, the film occasionally recalls the stream of consciousness style of something like William Faulkner’s The Sound and Fury.  Fortunately, this film is more straightforward than that but the constant time shifts do slightly undercut the drama as we’re taken out of Jane’s different worlds and have to try to work out which time period she’s in.

Still, the film strikes some powerful emotional chords.  Husson potently captures the characters’ painful attempts to use etiquette to wallpaper over their disenchantment with life, particularly Clarrie and Godfrey as they try to cope with grief of losing all their sons in the First World War.  Also, while the film is a little slow moving at times, there’s a constant and subtle undercurrent of dread conveyed which is enhanced by its atmospheric violin score.

As with most contemporary British dramas, the cast performances are excellent. Odessa Young lends Jane a sense of strength, impish sexuality and probing intelligence which is often focused on challenging the strictures of the British class system and prevailing prejudices such as racism.  As the grieving and emotionally hollowed-out couple who cling to some sense of English propriety, Firth and Coleman are as compelling as always despite playing supporting roles.

This film won’t appeal to all tastes. Those who adore period dramas may find its opaque style and fragmented timeline a little off-putting but for many this will be an intriguing study of a writer’s mind and the society from which she emerged.

Nick’s rating:    1/2

Genre: Period drama.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Eva Husson.

Release date: 2nd June 2022.

Running time: 110 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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