Mothering Sunday (2021)

EVA HUSSON

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5

, 2021. , , , , . Screenplay by , . Cinematography by . Produced by , . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

The sprawling estates of British aristocrats are situated far from the battlefields of the Great War that has just ended, but in the home of the wealthy Nivens (, ), the devastation has reached beyond the continent and exists within their walls. The couple lost both their sons in the war and it makes for a much emptier house that chambermaid Jane Fairchild () must attend to with quiet devotion, her life spent in service since having left the orphanage that she was raised in when she was fourteen. In the next estate over, the Sheringhams still have their son, Paul (), and he and Jane have been carrying on a secret, carnal affair that she must be very careful about, as it’s not likely that a man of his class would ever make anything legitimate out of the fun they are having together. On the titular day of matriarchal celebration, the two families have made plans for luncheon for Paul to meet his intended fiancée (Emma D’Arcy), which means that with the Nivens out, Jane has a free day. She spends it with him in his bedroom while he makes his guests wait, then after he leaves to go to his eventual fate she finds herself alone in his house, wandering through each room completely naked like a nymph out of a fable.

Scenes of the couple’s day of lovemaking forms the spine from which other scenes spring in this intimate, erotic drama, delivering contextual information through a kaleidoscope of flashbacks and flash forwards that give the impression of sifting through memories as the intensity between the lovers informs and affects everything around them. Director Eva Husson sets up the details with diligence and care, the two leads are attractive and their sex scenes are lush and fleshy, but their chemistry is only adequate, not exciting, particularly as Young’s face has no fascinating depths and she telegraphs very little when the camera gets up close to her. It seems we’re supposed to find something particularly poignant or revelatory about the couple’s time together that should contrast poignantly with the way this one day being focused on ends, spinning us forward to a later period in which Jane is a writer, then forward again to the present-day when an aged Jane (played by , returning to feature films for the first time since 1990) reflects on her success as an author. The intertextual inclusion of Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway suggests that Husson is also going for the kind of profound subtlety that Woolf (and Marleen Gorris in her film adaptation) accomplished with a similar story structure, but it only serves to make this film look that much thinner, the other time periods add very little to the story and feel like they exist solely because they made more sense in the original Graham Swift novel upon which the script is based. The film has its moments but they all come from the actors who deserve more screen time (Firth, Colman, D’Arcy).

Toronto International Film Festival: 2021

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