Mothering Sunday: “One of the most poignant dramas about wartime loss”
Screening in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes is Eva Husson’s Mothering Sunday, starring Odessa Young, Josh O’Connor, Colin Firth and Olivia Colman. The French director returns to the festival after her 2018 Girls of the Sun competed for the Palme d’Or. It is inter-war Britain and Jane Fairchild (Young) works as a maid in the Niven residence. Mr Niven (Firth) is constantly trying to keep the mood up, repeatedly pointing out how nice the weather is to a dejected and distracted Mrs Nevin (Colman). As Jane embarks on her day off, we learn she is having an affair with Paul Sheringham (O’Connor), who is the son of the Nevins’ closest friends and engaged to Emma, the daughter of the third family in this elite and wealthy circle.
The film is constantly moving between different times and places but always makes its way back to the titular day, on which Jane and Paul meet at his estate whilst her employers and his parents are at lunch. Jane is an orphan who has been in service since she was 14, and her love for books is fuelled by the kind Mr Vevin – who, at one point, catches her in his library and instaead of berating her, simply says, “I’ll come back later”. Paul is a lawyer in the making whose family has seen more loss than any should and the two are careful to keep their relationship a secret.
Mothering Sunday says so much and so little at the same time. It’s perhaps one of the most poignant dramas about wartime loss, resembling Testament of Youth or Atonement, encapsulating the utter devastation of those who mourned loved ones but were too committed to appearances to really feel that they could express their grief. It’s a sobering experience to see war through the lens of family and personal loss rather than country and honour, and the director delivers with the sensitivity needed when taking on such a grand concept.
Husson puts a lot of effort into making the feature delicate and ethereal, which at times can be frustrating. There’s a brilliant story here; you don’t need 15 minutes of Jane walking around a house fully naked, fingering every object she sees. It may value style over substance at times, but it is still a beautifully executed script and film. Just when you think Colman is being underused, she only needs 20 seconds to remind viewers why she is the best of the best in a heartbreaking scene of pure sorrow.
Mothering Sunday does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.