Eternal Beauty tells the story of Jane (played by Sally Hawkins), a paranoid-schizophrenic whose life is upended when she is stood up at the altar. Mental illness is a topic that is very easy to do wrong in cinema, but Eternal Beauty takes careful steps through its writing and cinematography to ensure its depiction of schizophrenia does not demonise or patronise.
Jane grapples with her mental health, but she is given room by the narrative to be funny, insightful and vulnerable through this struggle and in spite of it. Hawkins is spectacular as Jane, balancing pathos and passion effortlessly she gives the role the emotional complexity it needs to effectively carry the story.
Through Jane, Eternal Beauty takes a sledgehammer to the artifices of polite society, of “keeping up appearances” and the self-centred obsession with personal image that permeates so much of how we live. The film revels in the awkward space after a misfired joke or inadvertent stab at a social taboo, making its audience squirm as readily as it makes them laugh. It’s a challenging watch, but the movie knows how to balance its heavy themes with moments of charm and intimacy, as well as some exquisite comedic chops.
The kitschy suburban aesthetic and bold colour-coding go a long way in heightening the surrealist aspects of normal life and stripping the layers of artifice, bolstered by the deliberately off-kilter camera work. The cinematography works to make the domestic space hyper-real, exposing the cracks in the façade by contrasting the orderliness of these familiar surroundings with the messy and complicated lives of its cast.
While Jane is the star of the show, Eternal Beauty also shines through its excellent ensemble cast, with the protagonist’s dysfunctional family all receiving compelling arcs that tie seamlessly into each other. Alice Lowe is an excellent foil to Jane as her compassionate sister Alice, while Billie Piper is darkly hilarious as the rowdier sibling Nicola. The sisters are all beholden to the trappings of society in different ways, but through the intersections of their stories, they are able to tear down their individual suburban prisons and come to an uneasy but certain resolution.
Craig Roberts has delivered a powerful second feature, crafting a complicated and compelling world that challenges its audience just as confidently as its characters. This uncompromising presentation makes Eternal Beauty a difficult watch, but also a deeply fulfilling and engaging one.
Eternal Beauty is released nationwide on 2nd October 2020.
Watch the trailer for Eternal Beauty here: