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Thread: MOTHERING SUNDAY (Eva Husson 2021)

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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    MOTHERING SUNDAY (Eva Husson 2021)





    A French director sexes up the world of "Downton Abbey" in her Graham Swift adaptation

    Mothering Sunday, adapted from the eponymous novel by Graham Swift, is beautiful, bold, sad, experimental, well acted - yet not quite right. It jumps around in ways that might work in a book, a prize-winner that's been called the author's best work. But "jumps" is misleading because it suggests rapid actions, and this film moves very slowly.

    Mothering Sunday's plethora of shifts forward and backward slow down what is already rather too leisurely, in the meticulous and minute movement of individual scenes, held up by many sensual, almost tactile closeups. They make you want to stop and look even closer - which you can if you're watching a screener as I was, and which you also can, without even needing to hit the space bar, if you're reading a book. But when it is all done, this film leaves an imperfect sense of an action or a passage of time. To quote the quotable Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian "there is "something a bit indulgent and classy about the unvarying andante pace."

    "Mothering Sunday" was a day when servants got time off to visit family. Jane Fairchild (Australian actress Odessa Young of Shirley), being an orphan who's been in service since the age of 14, is given leave by Mr. Godfrey Niven (Colin Firth, well dressed but bland)simply to spend the day on her own. She pretends to go off on her bike to ride and read a book from the Niven library, but she's had a secret telephone signal from her clandestine upper class lover, Paul Sheringham (Josh O'Connor, the acclaimed Prince Charles of "The Crown," also interesting here) that his entire family is off for a large formal picnic with the Nivens at Henley, and the great Sheringham family house is available for them to make love in.

    The resulting long, sensual scene is arresting not only in its beauty and in O'Connor's striking performance but for all the bold and extended nudity. After the lovemaking is over Paul tells Jane to linger and she does, wandering around the house naked, looking at books, noshing on a meat pie and bottle of ale. Not only that, beforehand Paul walks around naked before the camera and there's more male frontal nudity than you'll see in a month of Sundays. This is likely to be more remembered than the the lingering bereavement of the two families who have both lost two sons in the War; or the the sadness of the finale of this central event; or things, also sad, that happen later in the time-scheme; or Olivia Coleman's ill-humored behavior. Olivia Coleman is nearly always ill-humored. It's only when she's pleasant that it's surprising. There are questions about Jane. How come she has such a neutral, educated voice? Why isn't there a clear-cut difference of class between her and Paul? And how are we to know that she later becomes a famous novelist if her narrative voice in the book has been removed from the film?

    As for the nudity, be it known that the debut film of Eva Husson, who is French, is called Bang Gang: A Modern Love Story (2015), and is a non-stop group sex orgy of well-off French teenagers in the summertime. Her second film, (Girls of the Sun, 2018), a flop about women fighting ISIS in Kurdistan, seemed to be an attempt to atone for the sheer pornographic indulgence of her first. It's as if a bit of Bang Gang spilled over into that scene between Odessa Young and Josh O'Connor. But be it also known that Jane's wandering around naked in the great house is part of the novel, not a risqué interpolation.

    The rest is standard Downton Abbey stuff, but with the sensuous closeups by dp Jamie Ramsay breathing down the necks of the well-dressed toffs, Olivia Coleman pouting, Colin Firth being wimpy and sweet, servants popping champagne and everyone remembering that their sons died in the War - as did the boyfriend of Milly (Patsy Ferran), Jane's confidante the kitchen maid. Swift's novel blends sadnesses, first that of the aftermath of World War I, then the tragedy that happens after Jane and Paul's idyll, then - while an older Jane, who got a job at a bookstore and left "service," is seen becoming a very successful writer - the fading away of this new Jane's new man, a brilliant and very loving philosopher known only as Donald (the talented Nigerian-British actor Sope Dirisu). A final sort of coda (but not without slipped-in peeks back at the young Jane) is a scene with Glenda Jackson as the elderly Jane, occupying a comfortable London house alone and called to the door to be asked by a crowd of journalists what she thinks of winning the biggest prize of all. She's blasé, but she thinks it's great.

    One might well argue that the events of that "Mothering Sunday" day in 1924 alone would have made a good movie, without weaving in so many flash-forwards of Jane's later life as a successful novelist. Graham Swift likes it complicated, as was in evidence in the film of his Last Orders (2002) - though I can't greatly recommend that, even though it was directed by Fred Schepisi.

    Leslie Felperin in her Hollywood Reporter review observes that Mothering Sunday constitutes "a posh package that should appeal" not only "to older viewers who swoon for 'Downton Abbey‘s' mix of frocks and manners" but also to "a younger demographic that likes a more carnal blend of romance and riches, as in Netflix series 'Bridgerton'." This is probably true, but is a commercial viability assessment a bit above my pay grade. What I might be qualified to note is the absence of the "intensely literary interior voice" (Felperin again) of the book's protagonist, carved away here, leaving the sexy, slow-moving visuals and the book's basic melodrama and thus giving us a story about a writer without the writing - but with one very sexy scene between Odessa Young and Josh O'Connor.

    Mothering Sunday, 104 mins., debuted in the "Premiere" section of Cannes Jul. 9, 2021, and showed in about a dozen other international festivals including Toronto, Vancouver, the Hamptons, BRI London, Mill Valley and Chicago. US release begins Fri., Mar. 25, 2022 in New York (four locations) and Los Angeles (two locations), moving on later. Opening in San Francisco Apr. 1 and in other Northern California locations Apr. 8. Metacritic rating: 78% (originally; now 67%). Not yet available online.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-25-2022 at 06:33 PM.


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