A quietly subversive film with a rare screen appearance by Oscar winner and former MP Glenda Jackson
You don’t see any violence on the screen in Mother sunday. Based on the novel by Graham Swift, the film is set in the Home Counties in the early 1920s. The First World War is hardly mentioned. Nonetheless, the painful legacy of war is evident in every picture.
Director Eva Husson, who works from a script by Alice Birch, is weird in her handling of the emotions of her characters, but unusually open in her portrayal of the sexual life of the two main protagonists.
The orphaned maid Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young) and the young Toff Paul (Josh O’Connor, The crown) are having an illicit affair. Paul is now supposed to marry someone of his own class.
Although there is flash-forward in Jane’s life, most of the story takes place on a single day, “Mother’s Sunday”.
Mr. Niven (Colin Firth) gave Jane the day off. She was left to herself “all day”.
This means a chance for a rendezvous with Paul, who welcomes the distraction from repeating for his law exam. While they are making love, a lunchtime party is held on the banks of the Thames for him to attend.
An ingenious, sensual and quietly subversive film that turns typical conventions of costume drama upside down. The story is told from Jane’s perspective. She has been in the service since she was 14 and has an uncanny power of observation. She loves books, dreams of becoming a writer and has the perfect background for it.
Everyone here has lost someone. “How lucky to have been fully buried at birth,” Jane is told at one point, as if it were a blessing to be an orphan.
Parts of the film play like a Gothic fairy tale. Jane is shown alone in a huge country house. The sad music by composer Morgan Kibby adds to the dreamlike feel of the storytelling.
Firth and Olivia Colman (as Mrs. Niven) have relatively small roles but make subtle, impressive appearances as a couple desperately trying to come to terms with their grief.
They are so busy observing the formalities of upper-class life that they hardly have a chance to express their feelings anyway.
Young and O’Connor are just as impressive as the young lovers who create their own self-contained world in which class and convention do not matter.
The film includes a rare screen appearance by venerable Oscar winner and former MP Glenda Jackson. She plays Jane as a much older woman and looks back on the fateful Sunday of all the years before.
Occasionally, Mother Sunday turns into a little arch, but this is still a moving and very finely watched costume drama. For once, the period trappings don’t get in the way of raw emotion.
In cinemas from November 12th