Part Bridgerton, part Downton Abbey, director Eva Husson’s steamy take on the Hawthorne Prize winning novella Mothering Sunday is equally lush and bleak as it examines love and loss in post WW1 England through the eyes of orphan, maid, and aspiring writer Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young).
The film largely taking place on March 30th, 1924, on Jane’s day off from working as maid for Mr. and Mrs. Niven (Colin Firth and Olivia Colman) a couple actively grieving the loss of their son. She has plans to meet with secret lover Paul Sheringham (Josh O’Connor), a wealthy neighbor’s son engaged to enter into a loveless marriage with Emma Hobday. They were put together as the last two surviving children of a trio of old-moneyed English families, all struggling with the loss of their sons killed in the war. Watching his own parents and the two other couples operate as shadows of themselves only exacerbates Paul’s survivor’s guilt. He is one of the only boys of his generation left alive. He finds some solace in his time with Jane, and it’s clear he loves her in his way, but it’s also clear he is using her in part to drown his grief. Knowing their affair can’t continue and expecting it to be their final day together, Paul and Jane fill their time with passionate sex sessions and intimate conversation. The audience witnesses all this, with the two stripped bare, naked together body and soul, their nakedness a sign of their trust in other above all others as well as a metaphor for the fact that deep down all humans are the same.
Meanwhile, the families come together, ostensible for a celebration at Sunday luncheon, and are waiting for the missing Paul to appear, but the scene devolves at the rare moment when the missing sons are mentioned. It was bound to happen, since the deaths of Dick, Freddy, James and Philip are like specters hovering over every gathering. “They’re all gone! They’re all f*cking gone!” cries Colman’s Mrs. Niven. No class is exempt from suffering loss, the great equalizer. It’s something they can’t erase, no matter how hard they try to cocktail and dinner party their way out of it. All semblance of genteel English culture evaporates, exposing the truth that death favors the rich and poor, the maid and the matron equally.
To read the Mothering Sunday review in its entirety, go to AWFJ.org HERE.