Review by Camden Ferrell
Mothering Sunday is a new romantic drama film that is based on Graham Swift’s 2016 novel of the same name. It had its premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival and played numerous festivals afterward like the Toronto International Film Festival. The movie is helmed by director Eva Husson with a script from Lady Macbeth writer Alice Birch. The movie may not have the most depth, but it succeeds due to its incredibly erotic nature and the chemistry of its two leads.
Jane is a maid for a wealthy British family in 1924. On Mothering Sunday, she receives the day off and goes to visit her forbidden lover Paul, the son of a rich family who is engaged to be married within his social circle. Jane’s life is shaped by a single afternoon of passionate carnal love with Paul, and we see the effect this relationship has on her over time. This is a simple and beautiful premise that gives the story the opportunity to focus on its characters and their feelings in lieu of a more eventful plot.
Birch’s script isn’t nearly as engaging or insightful as her prior efforts, but it lays a decent enough foundation for the actors to build on. The erotic nature of the film is able to grow thanks to how the story was structured and the characters were written. It does have a few scenes that disrupt the overall flow of the story, and this can make the final product underwhelming.
The strongest aspect of this movie is its performances. Big actors like Colin Firth and Olivia Colman play very small roles, and the rest of the supporting cast isn’t very prominent, so the burden of carrying the movie falls on its two leads. Odessa Young plays Jane, and Josh O’Connor plays Paul. Both actors are talented in their own rights, and they are quite great in this movie. This film lives and dies by the chemistry of its leads, and they have great chemistry. Their physical and emotional connection are strong throughout, and they handle the erotic scenes with gracefulness and tenderness. Without them, it's possible this movie could have failed to capture audiences like intended.
Husson’s direction is a little all over the place with this movie. She definitely excels in the movie’s moments of physical passion as those scenes are executed exquisitely. However, the in-between moments sometime lack the artistry and pacing of her other scenes, and this can make the film come off as stilted in execution. Regardless, the movie is shot adequately, and the music is romantic and subtle. There are some overarching problems with the movie, but it still mostly succeeds in telling a passionate and titillating story of forbidden love and how it affected her life over time.
Mothering Sunday is certainly a movie for adults only and rightfully so. It Is content to be unambitious in its narrative, so it can instead focus on the raw passion of its characters. Its erotic nature is paramount to its success, and it works very well thanks to how it is tenderly executed by its director and her actors. It may be a bit too slow in places, but it’s a sweet and romantic film that ultimately succeeds in its intent.
Mothering Sunday is in theaters March 25.