An orphaned maid recalls a fateful day in a steamy and sensual period romance. Based on the novel by Graham Swift, Mothering Sunday is a thoughtful exploration of love, grief, and the pursuit of self-fulfillment. The protagonist breaks free of her servile station. Driven by passion and a heavy heart to overcome an early life in the shadows of wealth. Mothering Sunday is told with a poetic delivery that tempers pacing issues.
Set initially on March 30, 1924, we are introduced to Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young), an orphan who works as a maid in the household of Godfrey (Colin Firth) and Clarrie (Olivia Colman) Niven. They give their staff the day off on Mothering Sunday. The Nivens are going to celebrate the engagement of Paul Sheringham (Josh O’Connor) to Emma Hobday (Emma D’Arcy). The Sheringham family owns the neighboring estate. Paul is their only surviving son after the war. Jane and Paul are intimately acquainted. They’ve had a secret affair for years.
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Jane and Paul make love at his house while everyone waits at the engagement party. Decades later, a much older Jane (Glenda Jackson), reflects on the events of that day. Then reminisces again about another lover. We see young Jane working at a bookstore. She meets the handsome and intellectual Donald (Sope Dirisu). He asks why she wants to be a writer. Jane replies that three incidents have steered her path. She casually names the first two but keeps the third as her treasured secret.
Relationships in Mother Sunday
Mothering Sunday will get your pulse racing. The scenes are not lewd but an accurate account of the intense physical relationship between smitten partners. French director Eva Husson (Girls of the Sun) is sublime in her depictions of Jane and Paul’s carnal encounters. He worships her body. Tenderly removing garments like feathered brushstrokes on a priceless painting. They are completely at ease with each other. Husson lingers on close-up shots. She constantly reinforces their magnetic bond.
The sensual liaisons have deeper meanings and consequences. Jane is a lowly maid. Meant to fetch, cook, and clean in silence. Paul is the last heir of an important family. His arranged marriage to Emma is a solemn duty to birthright. Jane and Paul’s love would never be condoned. The film has frank scenes discussing birth control and leaving fluid evidence behind. They have no illusions about what would happen if discovered. Conversely, her love for Donald is ultimately freeing. He sees her potential. She can be honest about her wants and dreams. The dichotomy between Jane’s partners shows her growth.
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Performances in Mother Sunday
Number 9 Films
Australian actress Odessa Young gives a daring and layered performance. She spends swaths of the film in the buff. A fascinating scene has her walking through the Sheringham house naked. She could never be so free as a menial servant. Jane exists at the whim of her employers. Helping the melancholic Mrs. Niven undress while she lauds the girl for being an orphan. A ridiculous statement to someone who is alone in the world. Jane must hide her heartbreak while high society toasts Paul and Emma’s marriage. She can only be herself under clandestine circumstances. Her disposition evolves with age. Young ably portrays a sophisticated character through a lifetime of changes.
Mothering Sunday jumps back and forth in time. The film’s pacing ebbs and flows with the flashbacks. Eva Husson does a great job with the coupling. But gets bogged down with other aspects of the narrative. This results in sluggish downturns after sizzling scenes. Mothering Sunday is an admittedly uneven film. But English period costume drama is rarely this titillating.
Mothering Sunday is a production of Number 9 Films, Ingenious, Film4, Lipsync Productions, and the British Film Institute. It will have a theatrical release in the United States on March 25th from Sony Pictures Classics.
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Julian Roman has been with Movieweb for nearly twenty years. An avid film buff, he feels lucky to have interviewed and written extensively about Hollywood’s greatest talents. In his spare time he plays guitar, treasures good company, and always seeks new adventures.
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