This period drama has more passion than literature.
When you step inside a British period piece, distributed domestically by Sony Pictures Classics, you want to be relaxed by the ambiance, you want to see the life given by the performances from the stars, and you want yo absorb the very nature that the film is trying to convey. “Mothering Sunday” has a relaxing ambiance and some fine performances, but it isn’t as absorbing as it intends to be.
The movie is not only based on Graham Swift’s novel, but is also named after the Mother’s Day holiday which is celebrated in the U.K. in March, instead of May. It’s also a period piece that has more atmosphere than meaning, and has us liking the performances while wanting more out of the story.
On Mothering Sunday in 1924, we meet a young maid named Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young), who is given the day off by the Niven family, people she cleans for. They consist of the kind Godfrey Niven (Colin Firth) and the ever gloomy Clarrie Niven (Olivia Colman). She could be off somewhere with her fellow maid Milly (Patsy Ferran), but instead, she sneaks off to have sex with her secret lover Paul Sheringham (Joshua O’Connor).
It’s impossible for them to be official, because Paul is arranged to be married to another woman named Emma Hobday (Emma D’Arcy), as she was previously engaged to marry his brother, who died in the Great War. And years later, when she would become a writer, she falls for a philosopher named Donald (Sope Dirisu).
The Norwegian film “The Worst Person in the World” was about a young woman who can’t decide her true love and goals, and at times, she was a writer. It had more life and exuberance, whereas “Mothering Sunday” is all passion and less commitment. It just seems to jump back and forth from the past to the present and then back to the past and present, and it isn’t as consistent or interesting as you would hope it would be. I wanted real meaning out of the relationships, and patience within them.
Young is the one who carries the film with her tone and dialogue, and she’s able to shine in various lights in the right way from director Eva Husson. Firth and Colman both have their moments of sentimentality, especially during the last half hour. Dirisu is the more suitable man for Young than O’Connor, because of how he’s able to ease into his character when he makes it into Jane’s life. And Glenda Jackson delivers the best cameo in the film as the older Jane, who appears in the beginning and the end of the film.
“Mothering Sunday” looks and feels fascinating, but for some reason, it didn’t reel me in the way most fascinating period dramas would, like “Howard’s End” or “Far From the Madding Crowd.” To repeat myself about my overall experience would be tiring, but to understand and feel something inside the film is to acknowledge its true colors. It has passion, it has tragedies, and it has career choices, but they could have been more interesting and less mopey.
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