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Mothering Sunday ★★★

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Director: Eva Husson

Stars: Odessa Young, Josh O’Connor, Sope Dirisu, Olivia Colman, Colin Firth

Released: 12th November 2021 (UK)

Considering the current state of society, I think many of us can relate to varying degrees of uncertainty within ourselves. Almost like you are in a perpetual state of limbo in how you move forward with your life, reeling from the collective hardships and loss we’ve all suffered for a prolonged period. What can be classed as a return to normality or rational behaviour?

Rightfully after being a dab hand at adapting the much-lauded Sally Rooney novel Normal People for the BBC, which showcased the hold a single silver chain around the tender neck of Paul Mescal can have on many a man, woman, and non-binary person.

We turn to screenwriter Alice Birch for a spot of guidance. Teaming up here with French filmmaker Eva Husson to deliver a well-intentioned adaptation of the Graham Swift book that, whilst rich in visual splendour and passionate declarations, arguably keeps its audience at arm’s length a touch too long when it comes to emotional engagement.

Transporting us to the tranquillity of 1920’s Henley, the muted atmosphere within the impeccable confines of the Nivens’ stately home is palpable. For all their clear wealth, heads of the house (Colin Firth & Olivia Colman), like many families in close proximity, are deprived of their most prized possessions. Their dear sons fell victim to the torrid violence of the First World War.

A mere observer to their respective inner conflict that ranges from completely numb to downright explosive. Fresh-faced maid Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young), who holds lofty aspirations to be an accomplished writer, seeks to reignite a true sense of herself as she becomes embroiled in a secret love affair with strapping neighbour Paul Sheringham (Josh O’Connor).

Only for the emotional complexity to extend far beyond who Jane serves, with Paul already engaged to be married. Hopping between this period and ten years later, it’s evident the lasting impact her impassioned encounters with Paul have had on her, despite her succumbing to the charms of Donald (Sope Dirisu). Now established in her chosen field yet scrambling for inspiration, the power in dabbling in the past for clarity remains alluring.

In a high society that is all about keeping up appearances, where displaying deep guttural feelings seems frightfully low on the list of priorities, even soon after a time of great mourning. Director Eva Husson is shrewd in her subversion of this through its central dynamic, with the emphasis on emotionally naked (quite literally in multiple cases!) exchanges proving a compelling draw. For all the soul-bearing, even when her protagonists are draped in costume designer Sandy Powell’s finest. ‘Mothering Sunday’s heart pierces through consistently.

The film, unfortunately is ultimately hamstrung by the slow-burning, non-linear approach to its storytelling. Rather like Jane steadily surveying the contents of a lavish library as her fingertips skim gently across the book covers. As a viewer, there’s much curiosity drummed up through our time immersed in this ravishing romance. However, it takes a frightfully long time to establish any emotional momentum and commit to opening itself up to us, which could potentially leave you as empty or withdrawn from its world as Mr and Mrs Niven seem to be.

Thankfully for Husson, the committed work of her ensemble keep the pages turning, staggering around the home as if almost wounded. Colin Firth brings a bracing melancholy to Mr Niven, whereas one powerhouse monologue from Olivia Colman’s Mrs Niven threatens to steal the film from everyone. Implying to Jane that being an orphan is a great survival tool and a blessing, in the long run, it is a heart-breaking musing on the loss she has endured. Whilst I don’t think their chemistry fully catches fire, again hampered by the narrative structure. Odessa Young and Josh O’Connor still manage to impress and have you invested in their crafting of a wholly believable love story, creating multiple bewitching close-up moments together when they share the screen.

Given its title, Mothering Sunday is bound to be a cosy comfort on such an occasion in the future, given the aching beauty of its camerawork and period-drama sensuality on display. But in mirroring the beginnings of Odessa Young’s Jane, how you wish, there wasn’t such a great sense of abandonment in making you feel it.

Mothering Sunday on IMDB – Mothering Sunday (2021) – IMDb

Darryl Griffiths, Author at Movie Marker

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