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CANNES 2021 Cannes Premiere

Review: Mothering Sunday

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- CANNES 2021: Eva Husson puts the sexy into the British period drama in this stunning adaptation of Graham Swift's novella

Review: Mothering Sunday
Sope Dirisu and Odessa Young in Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday [+see also:
trailer
interview: Eva Husson
film profile
]
is a sexy and lush period drama that jumps back and forth in time, and between love stories, with elegance and verve. In the best traditions of the most heart-wrenching romances, it's also incredibly tragic, but that's a price worth paying to have sampled love. The film, starring Josh O'Connor, Odessa Young, Sope Dirisu, Glenda Jackson, Colin Firth and Olivia Colman, is directed by the remarkable Eva Husson, whose last film, Girls of the Sun [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Eva Husson
film profile
]
, premiered in competition at Cannes in 2018. Mothering Sunday debuts in the inaugural Cannes Premiere section this year. With it, Husson confirms she is an auteur to bookmark as she brings the sexiness, vitality and naked bodies of her debut, Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Eva Husson
film profile
]
, to dust off the cobwebs of coyness and restraint inherent in the British period drama.

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Acclaimed British scriptwriter Alice Birch (Lady Macbeth [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: William Oldroyd
film profile
]
, Normal People) has adapted Graham Swift's 2016 novella for the screen. The bulk of the action takes place on Mothering Sunday in March 1924, when young housemaid Jane Fairchild (Young) is given the day off from her job working for Mr and Mrs Niven (Firth and Colman). She uses the moment to surreptitiously go to a nearby manor house to visit her secret lover, Paul (O'Connor), who's engaged to marry a daughter of his parents’ friends. It's a beautiful and familiar cinematic world of country houses, idyllic lanes and classic cars. These scenes between Jane and Paul make them feel like perfect lovers through images, rather than dialogue. In them, cinematographer Jamie Ramsay makes great use of sunlight to give the film the atmosphere of a perfect moment in time.

Is there a director who has been better over the last decade at shooting naked bodies and portraying sex than Husson? Both Young and O'Connor deliver natural performances, showing love through physicality and emotion as they find liberation in a rare moment where they can walk around naked in each other's company without fear of reprisal.

Then comes the cross-cutting editing of Husson's frequent collaborator Emilie Orsini. As with Bang Gang, it's the way the scenes bump against each other that is the most powerful storytelling tool. The film relies on an emotional resonance, rather than the plot, to tell the story, deceptively only giving hints of the whole picture unfolding through glimpses of Jane at a typewriter in later years, in the late 1940s and then in the 1980s (when Jackson plays her).

It's skilful how Husson uses the film's structure to mimic the novel's format of a writer looking back at moments in life and going off at tangents. The story between Donald (Dirisu) and Jane, which is only briefly referred to in the novella, is given an added prominence and major through-line, unfolding to provide the idea of the cycle and repetitiveness of life. Keywords are often written out on screen to reinforce the idea that this is a memoir, the narrative of someone trying to think back about their lovers and how they helped define their lives. It all adds up to create a picture that gives off the feeling that, in spite of all the grief and pain, it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Mothering Sunday was produced by the UK’s Number 9 Films. Its international sales are handled by Rocket Science.

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