Odessa Young, Olivia Coleman, and Colin Firth Star in Nakedly British Class Drama is

DIRECTED BY EVA HUSSON/2022 (U.S. Theatrical Release)

In Downton Abbey times, a touch of Bridgerton has crept in.  It’s 1924, and it’s Mothering Sunday in England.  That means that servants traditionally are given the day off.  That means that Jane Fairchild, a former orphan who now keeps house for the wealthy Niven family (Colin Firth and Olivia Colman) is free to spend an extended period of time with her longtime lover.  Her feelings are, however, marginalized by the fact that he’ll soon be marrying a close acquaintance of the Nivens.  That means that when she’s not alone with him being wooed and sensually undressed, she’s working dinners in his honor wherein the gulf between their social standings keeps them “strangers”.

Jane, after all, is but a humble servant girl; pretty, quiet, dutiful.  Played by Odessa Young (Assassination Nation), Jane is strong but with fragility; suppressed with glimpses of radiance escaping here and there.  Her, and everyone else, is very lost in their thoughts- and this movie is a lot like they are.  The layered internal nature of Jane extends to the movie proper, which stems from its original source material, the 2016 Graham Swift novel of the same title.  Interior and external conjoin all the while, with very mixed satisfaction throughout.

Helmed by French former actress turned AFI-trained filmmaker Eva Husson, there’s no mistaking Mothering Sunday for anything but a director-driven film.  Employing askew composition, light & shadow, and slow motion (in that order) to cultivate her very deliberate atmosphere, there’s a kind of quite showiness that both keeps things more interesting than they’d otherwise be but is also distracting at times.  With her Nicholas Roeg-esque nonlinear editing and dialogue kept to a glaring minimum, Husson is in full internal mode here.  All notions of proper British decorum are sharply, silently challenged amid a matter-of-fact upstairs/downstairs world.  Jane will become a writer, as the film insists- which we will be very aware of from the start. 

Oscar favorite Sandy Powell is on hand to provide all manner of period accurate wardrobe, and everyone is truly stunningly dressed.  Ms. Powell, however, catches something of a break with Jane, as the protagonist spends many of her scenes nude.  Her prolongment of her nudity- mundane, every bit of it- tips into the realm of impressive, as though director Husson and actress Young challenged each other as to just how much and how long it could be sustained.  For minutes and minutes on end, Jane opts to casually stroll her lover’s empty manor house in the buff… casually admiring paintings… walking all the stairs… having a piece of cake and then washing the silverware… pursuing the books… all as God made her.  Dignity and committed performance are forefront all the while, at least in the fabric of Mothering Sunday itself.  Giving Kate Winslet a run for her money, this one is.

That said, Mothering Sunday makes a point of equal-opportunity bareness.  Josh O’Conner, star of The Crown, plays Jane’s upper-class paramour, Paul.  He, like everyone in this movie, likes to talk to Jane about Jane.  Only, he does so while letting it all hang out.  He puts his shirt on first, taking his time to get to the rest.  Later, when another man (Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù) puts his trousers on first and Jane questions that order, she learns that shirt-first is simply undignified.  That the second man is a principled black intellectual not at all part of Paul’s high, crusty hand-me-down status tells us all we need to know.  

For Jane, literary greatness awaits.  (She is a great writer because the film tells us so).  If you want a great writer to sprout, seed her with books and books and books.    Eventually, she ages into the always welcome Glenda Jackson.  Jackson has exactly one full sequence in the film, but in it she makes more of an impression than co-stars Colin Firth, Olivia Colman, and Patsy Ferran.  

As Mothering Sunday began, there was the dread that it would be indigestible tripe; pretentious in the most accurate sense of that oft-misused word.  Instead, it’s a good-but-not-great very British period piece with the director’s Frenchness very much on full display.