Mothering Sunday: Film Review

Lionsgate

Odessa Young and Josh O’Connor lead Eva Husson‘s period romance drama as housemaid Jane Fairchild and her wealthy family’s friend Paul Sheringham, respectively.

The film revolves around one Mother’s Day in 1924. The Nivens – Colin Firth and Olivia Colman – are off out for a picnic with the Sheringhams and give their maid Jane the day off, so she enjoys a steamy illicit afternoon with Paul, despite the fact he’s supposed to be there too.

Although the narrative revolves around their sexual encounter, the film jumps back in time to reveal more backstory and how Jane and Paul met while also jumping forward to the 1940s, with Jane now in a relationship with Donald (Sope Dirisu), and again to the present day, with Jane as a writer played by Glenda Jackson.

I can appreciate why Husson chose to jump around so much – the film would have been rather dull and ordinary if it went in chronological order and it helps maintain some intrigue about the characters as you don’t learn everything about them straight away. But she got too carried away with this narrative technique. The scenes within the three major timeframes (1918-1924, the 1940s, present) aren’t even assembled in chronological order; it really is all over the place and there are no time stamps to help you so it is rather confusing and disorientating. At the start of every scene, you have to figure out which timeframe you’re in and where it fits in context with the other scenes you’ve already seen. It admittedly gets easier as it goes but it pulls you right out of the story because you’re constantly trying to make sense of everything and put it in a logical order.

Because of this jumping around and the seriously slow luxurious pace, you just don’t feel what you’re supposed to. Mothering Sunday actually tells a really sad, tragic story, but I didn’t feel anything because the structure got in the way of my emotional connection to it.

On the flipside, I have to praise the gorgeous costume and production design, the ageing work on Young and the cast. I was particularly impressed by Young, who captivates in her understated role, while O’Connor is as charming as ever. They had believable chemistry together and their roles required full-frontal nudity so hats off to them for stripping off onscreen. Dirisu comes across well but his character is rather flimsy. I wish we had got to know him better.

Colman and Firth aren’t in this film very much but they do a lot with their screentime and make an impact as bereaved parents. Colman’s Clarrie is overwhelmed by grief and in this zombie-like mournful state but she gets a couple of moments to break out of that in the best way. Firth’s Godfrey tries to be cheerful and upbeat despite their tragedy so it’s all the more heartbreaking when his facade drops.

It’s quite difficult to get fully into Mothering Sunday because the narrative constantly prevents you from doing so, which is a real shame as the story is good and the performances are excellent.

In cinemas Friday 12th November

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Shirley: Film Review

Shirley

I had been looking forward to seeing Shirley for months, basically since its U.S. release back in June, because I was intrigued to see Elisabeth Moss play reclusive author Shirley Jackson, but I didn’t love the story this movie told.

This biographical drama, based on the novel of the same name by Susan Scarf Merrell, begins with the arrival of newly married couple Fred (Logan Lerman) and Rosie (Odessa Young). Fred is beginning a new job at Bennington College, where Shirley’s husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a professor, and they have been offered a place to stay at their home while they find their feet. It sounds like a nice gesture at first but it soon becomes a nightmare for the couple as Shirley and Stanley take great pleasure in bringing them down and causing tension within their marriage.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Josephine Decker‘s previous movie Madeline’s Madeline because it was so experimental and weird but I had high hopes for Shirley as I assumed it would be more grounded in realism, given that it’s a biographical drama. And it is, to a degree, but it’s still a bit odd in places, especially in scenes of Shirley writing or thinking about a missing college girl named Paula, the subject of her latest novel.

I would have preferred a straight-up biopic about the famed author of The Haunting of Hill House. The novel and this film adaptation are a work of fiction but use many actual details from Shirley’s life, such as her heavy smoking, bouts of depression and agoraphobia, and acceptance of Stanley’s infidelity, so I found those aspects enlightening and interesting, but I thought too much attention was placed on Rosie and at one point, she felt like the centrepiece of the movie.

Moss always gives her performances 100% and I cannot fault her commitment to this mean-spirited part, while Stuhlbarg is perfectly cast as the self-important literary academic who loves the sound of his own voice. They both elevate the material and make it far more compelling than it should have been. Young was excellent as Rosie, who becomes increasingly unhappy in her marriage, and Lerman has the smallest role but doesn’t let the team down. I enjoyed watching their conversations around the dinner table – the dialogue in those scenes was very well written – but the film loses its way when it focuses too much on Shirley and Rosie’s burgeoning friendship/romance.

I don’t really know what I was expecting from Shirley but this wasn’t it. I still liked many aspects of it, like the performances and the dialogue, but the story didn’t satisfy me at all.

Seen as part of the London Film Festival. In cinemas from Friday 30th October

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Shirley: LFF Film Review

Shirley

I had been looking forward to seeing Shirley for months, basically since its U.S. release back in June, because I was intrigued to see Elisabeth Moss play reclusive author Shirley Jackson, but I didn’t love the story this movie told.

This biographical drama, based on the novel of the same name by Susan Scarf Merrell, begins with the arrival of newly married couple Fred (Logan Lerman) and Rosie (Odessa Young). Fred is beginning a new job at Bennington College, where Shirley’s husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a professor, and they have been offered a place to stay at their home while they find their feet. It sounds like a nice gesture at first but it soon becomes a nightmare for the couple as Shirley and Stanley take great pleasure in bringing them down and causing tension within their marriage.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Josephine Decker‘s previous movie Madeline’s Madeline because it was so experimental and weird but I had high hopes for Shirley as I assumed it would be more grounded in realism, given that it’s a biographical drama. And it is, to a degree, but it’s still a bit odd in places, especially in scenes of Shirley writing or thinking about a missing college girl named Paula, the subject of her latest novel.

I would have preferred a straight-up biopic about the famed author of The Haunting of Hill House. The novel and this film adaptation are a work of fiction but use many actual details from Shirley’s life, such as her heavy smoking, bouts of depression and agoraphobia, and acceptance of Stanley’s infidelity, so I found those aspects enlightening and interesting, but I thought too much attention was placed on Rosie and at one point, she felt like the centrepiece of the movie.

Moss always gives her performances 100% and I cannot fault her commitment to this mean-spirited part, while Stuhlbarg is perfectly cast as the self-important literary academic who loves the sound of his own voice. They both elevate the material and make it far more compelling than it should have been. Young was excellent as Rosie, who becomes increasingly unhappy in her marriage, and Lerman has the smallest role but doesn’t let the team down. I enjoyed watching their conversations around the dinner table – the dialogue in those scenes was very well written – but the film loses its way when it focuses too much on Shirley and Rosie’s burgeoning friendship/romance.

I don’t really know what I was expecting from Shirley but this wasn’t it. I still liked many aspects of it, like the performances and the dialogue, but the story didn’t satisfy me at all.

Seen as part of the London Film Festival. In cinemas from 30th October

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Assassination Nation: Film Review

Assassination Nation was one of the films on my watch list for the London Film Festival and I was gutted to miss it at the time but it turns out I didn’t miss out on too much, because it was cool but very messy.

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