“Mothering Sunday,” a novel by British author Graham Swift, is adapted by Alice Birch (“Lady Macbeth”) for the feature film by the same name that is now having a wider release April 8th after having been shot in 2020. Directed by Eva Husson, the film features Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young) as the young maid who works for the Niven family, Godfrey (Colin Firth) and his wife Clarrie (Olivia Colman) in 1920s England. If someone is unfamiliar with the novel (as I am), it would be anticipated to have the latter two award winning actors as the focus of the film, but instead, it is the young maid’s life story. Told in a manner like a memoir, by the way the film ended it gave me the impression that I have seen this story before. Jane’s story – from youth to elderly- skips back and forth from one specific day in 1924 to the 1940s and beyond, back to the 20s. Also not knowing the story told by Swift, some viewers may not be prepared for all the sex and nudity, including full frontal for both partners, during the first thirty minutes or so. It is very sensual and loving and makes its point, but the same cannot be said of any of the other characters in the story who are trying to live day by day despite world events that have impacted their families. This is a British period drama that will appeal to younger and older generations.
In May 1924, Jane is given some of the day off when the Nivens will be gone to visit with their friends, among them the Sheringham family. Her plan for her free time is to visit with Paul Sheringham (Josh O’Connor, “The Crown”) while his parents leave earlier than he. This years-long affair with the youngest male of a family who lost two sons in the war has continued despite the arranged marriage to a woman from another aristocratic family, Emma Hobday (Emma D’Arcy). Jane and Paul are very close and yet that day will forever be in her heart and soul. Her love of books and words is what keeps her going as we see in many scenes, and it is what leads her to pursuing another life.
Mothering Sunday then seems to shift gears, as viewers must keep up with Jane’s life as scenes change from one decade to another (past and future), back and forth, ending in her elder life (played by Glenda Jackson as an author). It is not terribly difficult to follow, but it was not expected.
Donald (Sope Dirisu, Netflix’s “His House”) appears mid-way in the film as the story is shifting from a young Jane to her life in the 40s and at first is confusing if the viewer is not following the leap ahead in her life. Shortly after, the audience is shown scenes of Jane meeting Donald the philosopher in a bookstore and eventually have a brief marriage. They are happy and good for each other, but life has a way of altering people’s lives.
Audience beware – fans of some of the favorite cast members will enjoy them while they are on screen (which is very limited for Colman, especially) in their supporting roles. The performances are excellent. While the film may have some small issues, it is worth a watch as it opens in select theaters in Austin.
Crew: Cinematographer -Jamie Ramsay (beautiful close-up shots and landscape), Editor – Emilie Orsini, Composer -Morgan Kibby, Costume designer: Sandy Powell (gorgeous).
Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity and language. 110 minutes. Source: Sony Pictures Classics