A gentle but deep story of the awakening of a young woman’s creativity in the period following World War 1, Mothering Sunday has a strong cast and the themes only improve on reflection.
In the UK, Mother’s Day, or Mothering Sunday, falls on 27th March in 2022, 2 days after the New York and Los Angeles release of this film from Eva Husson. Which is unfortunate if you are trying to find a family-friendly film for a Sunday treat for mum.
The film Mothering Sunday has a lot going for it, some of which only sinks in after the film is over, but it is not a light-hearted, Downton Abbey-type drama so be forewarned.
Set over one day in 1924 – in that period which we now recognise as between wars but which at the time was the aftermath of The Great War – a wealthy family is preparing for a day out with friends to celebrate the engagement of a young couple. Head of the household Godfrey Niven (Colin Firth) is doing his best to keep things upbeat, while wife Clarrie (Olivia Colman) looks like she’s about to physically crumble from within. For the three families at the event have each been touched by loss, and Clarrie appears to be struggling more than the others.
6 years after the end of World War 1, we are reminded early on that Britain is still mourning the loss of thousands of young men who went to war and never returned. Villages lost a generation almost overnight, girls lost their sweethearts, mothers lost their sons. The engagement between surviving son Paul (Josh O’Connor) and Emma (Emma D’Arcy) is the great hope for the generation, and also stressful for the couple. Emma was to have married one of the other sons, and Paul has been having a secret but long-term relationship with Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young), the housemaid at the Niven’s house. Paul’s engagement marks the end of their relationship and the start of a fundamental change in Jane’s life, but the pair can have this one final day together before parting.
Adapted from Graham Swift’s novella of the same name by Alice Birch, Mothering Sunday is not the story of grieving families (as it could have chosen to be, and which would have been an equally interesting tale) but is about Jane and the effects that the day’s events will ultimately have on her future career. Even though her position as maid marks her as ‘beneath’ the landowners whom she serves, Jane has a strong sense of herself and her creativity, and her relationship with Paul is one of equals, even though their circumstances are different. A series of scenes featuring older Jane (played in her 80s by Glenda Jackson) are interspersed throughout the narrative and shed a little light on what will become of her in the decades to come.
The 1924 scenes are bathed in lazy sunlight and gorgeously shot by director of photography Jamie D. Ramsay, but jumping out of these to the duller, ‘future’ Jane does test the patience a little; the mood chops and changes abruptly as it jumps around Jane’s timeline and is somewhat frustrating.
One further thing to mention, in case you are seeking a period drama with a top-notch cast for diversion, is that the two main characters spend a good proportion of the film naked. I’m no prude, and on-screen nudity is fine where appropriate but despite the director’s comments, I personally felt it a distraction and would have preferred less. When there are costumes, however, the legendary Sandy Powell naturally comes up trumps.
Mothering Sunday is one of those films that I enjoyed much more once I had finished watching it, and was able to take time to fully absorb the weight of its content.