Directed by Eva Husson, Mothering Sunday is based on the novel (same name) by Graham Swift. Primarily about the hidden relationship between housemaid Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young), who works for the Nivens, and Paul (Josh O’connor), the sole surviving son of a wealthy manor, the film moves beyond the theme of them being together as implausible, to explore multiple facets of their society.
Suitable for a mature audience, Mothering Sunday is an incredibly slow-moving film. With several close ups that start from the very first scene, the film continues in this cinematic way. It focuses on the details of a scene, such as people’s faces, their hand movements, their body hair, people smoking.
This focus on the details is a bit like the film itself. Although the interplay of love, war and grief are subtly explored, the film fails to leave the audience with a clear message. It leaves the audience only with the details.
Was the film about how Fairchild wrote her novel? Was it about the ‘gift’ of having no one to grieve? Was it about how love is always worth it, despite the grief? Was it about the effect of class status on marriage? Was it about the impacts of war on those that are left behind?
Thankfully the film has a strong cast. Colin Firth is Mr Niven, who at first comes across as rather feeble-minded, talking much about the weather of the day and appears not to notice anything real. However, as the film progresses, we see that rather, he is stultified by grief. His wife Clarrie, Olivia Coleman, appears cold and spiteful, however we eventually see this is her way is coping. Their stories, alongside with Jane’s and Paul’s, are told in a series of flashbacks (and for Jane, life in the future) throughout the film.
The strongest drawcard to this film is the strong cast and the excellent set production. The costumes, the dialogue, the behaviours, the landscapes, the artworks, and even the crockery, all superbly transport one to the year of 1924. It is all about the details.
Mothering Sunday opens on June 2nd