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Review: Mothering Sunday (2021)

‘Mothering Sunday’ (dir. Eva Husson) is a period drama in the most unconventional sense – both the viewer and the characters hardly know what time and era they’re supposed to be in.

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‘Mothering Sunday’ (dir. Eva Husson) is a period drama in the most unconventional sense – both the viewer and the characters hardly know what time and era they’re supposed to be in. The past and future lives of Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young) commingle into one present: Mother’s Day, 1924, the only exact date the film offers throughout its entire runtime.

Husson portrays the erratic nature of time through equally variable camera shots; the film opens with claustrophobically-near close-ups of Jane’s face. We are given glimpses of her and her lover Paul Sheringham (Josh O’Connor), whose disembodied lips are in mid-speech. He is telling the story of the Sheringhams’ beloved, dead horse. Why this story? We don’t know - at least, not immediately. Stories and storytelling are vital to ‘Mothering Sunday’ because they help make sense of the catastrophic events that characterise the lives of every person in Husson’s film.

Jane, Paul, and the Nivens (Colin Firth and Olivia Colman), Jane’s employers, bear the burden of significance; they possess a keen self-awareness of the importance of events. Although Mrs Niven dismisses that fateful Mother’s Day as “just another lunch” and will receive a rude awakening, every one of them moves and speaks with gravity as if they understand what will occur. Alternatively, they may just predict their lives will change inexplicably. Is this because they have all had their fair share of death and are therefore prepared for bereavement?

Whatever the case, the film readies us for loss; scenes are almost rudely interrupted by flash-forwards of Jane’s future life. Mother’s Day is not over yet, but Jane is already shown as a modern urban woman in trousers and lipstick and, briefly, as an elderly woman at her desk.

The lovers, Jane and Paul, are not keen for the day to end. Their brief montage together is sensuously slow as they gently strip each other and engage in delicate tête-à-tête. Their dialogue is not one of two young misfits on the brink of adulthood; instead, it is immensely serious. In a poignant scene by the lake, Jane and Paul consider the implications of his engagement for their relationship: “You’re my friend, Jane. My true friend.” he declares. Love is never mentioned between the two - it is implied.

Indeed, ‘Mothering Sunday’ and its characters communicate through implications. Silence is as important as dialogue, especially with a main character who implicitly cherishes intimacy and privacy. Jane is given “a whole county, all to [herself]”, but all she cares for is the space in Paul’s arms. Instead of gallivanting across the countryside, she spends most of her day at Paul’s home, even after he leaves for luncheon. She languorously explores his estate, naked and unseen except by us. With all the time in the world, it appears all she desires is peace, and a room of her own; both of which she later achieves through her writing.

The flash-forwards and flashbacks slowly unravel the narrative.  As an audience, we can only trust that Jane’s story will come full circle. Her words at the film’s close ring profound: ‘It was inevitable’.

 

 

‘Mothering Sunday’ is currently screening at Palace Cinemas across Melbourne.

 
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