I’m a huge fan of independent films and I love historical films. This meant when I heard about Mothering Sunday I was intrigued. The cast was also compelling. After watching the film, I found my reaction far more mixed than I expected. The acting was impeccable, the cast was skilled and emotional but the story felt disjointed due to multiple flashbacks and jumps forward in time.
Mothering Sunday is a British romantic drama directed by Eva Husson, from a screenplay by Alice Birch based on the novel by the same name by Graham Swift. Set in the wake of World War I, the film follows orphaned housemaid Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young) on a warm summer day in 1924. Jane finds herself alone on Mother’s day while her employers, Mr. and Mrs. Niven (Colin Firth, Olivia Colman) are out with friends. Jane has the rare chance to be alone with her secret lover, Paul (Josh O’Connor) the son of friends of the Nivens. He’s also engaged to be married to another neighbor and childhood friend, Emma (Emma D’Arcy). The two are wildly in love despite this but events beyond either’s control will change the course of Jane’s life forever. The film also stars Sọpẹ́ Dìrísù, Patsy Ferran, and Glenda Jackson.
One of the most intriguing actions of the film is how you get to see how Jane’s actions in the past impact her future. We see her older as a writer and get shown how events propel her into becoming one, with Glenda Jackson playing the older version of Jane. We also see how much her life changes because of this one day in her life. The character engages us with her story as she interacts with her employers and sets out on her day. Her introduction is well directed and we can easily see the romance between her and Paul.
The acting in this film is impeccable. With the likes of Colin Firth and Olivia Colman, I would have expected no less but the younger actors are equally skilled. Odessa Young gives us an impactful performance, one that is engaging, emotional, and powerful. That emotion is carried forward into the parts of the film that relate to her future and both she and Glenda Jackson turn the character of Jane into a compelling character. The dynamic between her and Josh O’Connor playing Paul is intimate, expressive, and charismatic. Their relationship is beautiful. So too is the older Jane’s relationship with Donald played by Sọpẹ́ Dìrísù. Sọpẹ́ Dìrísù adds a warm element to the film, with a powerful belief in Jane as a writer. The acting between all four is critical to the film and they convey the emotional weight of the film well. Colin Firth and Olivia Colman are powerful and emotional in their performances. It was a delight to see both onscreen.
The cinematography and the visual elements of the film are gorgeous. The director emphasizes the beauty of the English countryside and uses it to enhance the story. The clothing and props are also fitting to the time period and are completely authentic. Those elements also help enhance the romantic elements and foreshadow events to come in the movie.
What doesn’t work for me are the flashbacks and flash-forwards. While the information and plot points relayed helped tell the story, they pulled me out of the moment, the romantic elements of the film. Those points also detract from us finding out information that is needed, like the relationship of the Nivens to Paul and to the other friends they are meeting with. We only get the full sense of the story by the time we are halfway through the film. This also lessens the emotional weight of the film as we finally learn that both the Niven’s and Paul’s parents lost sons in World War I. Without this sooner, it detracts from why Paul’s relationship with Jane is so important and why he falls in love with her despite having a fiance. There are so many back-and-forth moments in time that the story becomes disjointed and hard to stay engaged. Even so, it is a beautiful and emotional story with some powerful performances. They simply lose their full impact due to the time jumps. This is a film with layers, however, so it does all come together at the end of the movie.
If you love emotional dramas and British films, with exceptionally skilled acting, I would still suggest watching this film. The movie has some beautiful connections and by the end of the film, you will understand what happened more easily. The acting and dynamics between actors are extraordinary. Odessa Young is emotive and powerful as are the other performances. I found the acting more than worth the jumps in time.
3.5 out of 5 legs.
On a warm spring day in 1924, house maid and foundling Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young) finds herself alone on Mother’s Day. Her employers, Mr. and Mrs. Niven (Colin Firth and Olivia Colman), are out and she has the rare chance to spend quality time with her secret lover. Paul (Josh O’Connor) is the boy from the manor house nearby, Jane’s long-term love despite the fact that he’s engaged to be married to another woman, a childhood friend and daughter of his parents’ friends. But events that neither can foresee will change the course of Jane’s life forever. MOTHERING SUNDAY opened in the US on March 25, 2022, and opens in Phoenix Arizona on Friday, April 1, 2022.
ONE-LINER: A maid living in post-World War I England secretly plans to meet with the man she loves before he leaves to marry another woman.