- Colin Fraser
FOUR STARS A young man seeking fame and fortune as a poet succumbs to the temptations of Paris, and makes more than one enemy along the way. PERIOD DRAMA UK #MOTHERINGSUNDAY
Starring Odessa Young, Josh O'Connor
Jane Fairchild (Australia’s Odessa Young) works as maid in a modest, English country home. It’s a soulless place owned by a couple grieving the loss of their son to the Great War. Says a chronically depressed and tearfully distraught Mrs Niven (Olivia Coleman); “You have no family Jane. You have absolutely nothing to loose. That is a gift!” It’s a proposition she takes to heart when the Nivens join friends for a poorly considered picnic on Mother’s Day. Given time off and free from the eggshells on which she normally walks, Jane elects to spend the afternoon in bed with her lover, the soon to be married Paul Sheringham (Josh O’Connor). After all, what has she got to lose? His fiancé may be waiting for him at the picnic, but after all, what has he got to lose?
This captivating story is revealed in flashback by an older Jane, now an aspiring author in post-war Britain. The theme of loss lies heavy over both timelines, over the picnic, the families and Jane herself, past and present. Adapting Graham Swift’s acclaimed novel, screenwriter Alice Birch has imbued the story with the melancholic possibilities that made her NORMAL PEOPLE such a compelling TV series. There’s a comparable sensibility around both female leads, how each are driven toward a future beyond the constraints of the times. Likewise both women refuse to be bound or defined by the norms of sexual expression. It’s eye-catching stuff.
French director Eva Husson makes the most of the opportunity afforded but Birch’s adaptation and Swift’s text, lending the narrative visual wit and style that hooks our attention from the start. Stripping the characters bare (figuratively and literally - Young and O’Connor leave nothing to our imagination), Husson redresses them by incremental observation. Piece by piece she turns the story into a mosaic reflecting loss and hope stretched over time and place. Throughout there’s a pulsing ache of grief twinned with the lure of a brightly lit future. Niven’s tacit approval to live boldly or not live at all underscores this smouldering work.
MOTHERING SUNDAY is a meticulous production that pays handsome dividends. Whilst it might not satisfy hardcore fans of Swift’s work, the lush sets and powerful performances combine with Birch’s bold script to reimagine period drama.