Release Date – 12th November 2021, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 36 minutes, Director – Eva Husson
While her employers (Colin Firth, Olivia Colman) spend the day with, long-distant since World War One ended, friends to celebrate an engagement, maid Jane (Odessa Young) spends Mothering Sunday in an affair with future-groom Paul (Josh O’Connor).
There are two lines of period drama in which director Eva Husson’s Mothering Sunday travels along. One is the standard Silver Cinema kind where Colin Firth comments on how much of a lovely day it is, what with the weather being so nice and fortunate for the occasion, in most of the scenes he appears in. The other is the rise in steamy kind of period drama where lust and passion, the kind that you would never expect to see in something like Downton, emerges with an in-your-face force that would turn away what you would think of as the conventional Silver Cinema audience. While the film boasts Sandy Powell as costume designer it seems that there are plenty of sequences where she may not have had much of a difficult job as Odessa Young and Josh O’Connor casually parade around a lavish house in their birthday suits.
However, the occasion being celebrated isn’t either, or any, character’s birthday, nor even Mother’s Day. It’s in fact the engagement between O’Connor’s Paul and Emma D’Arcy’s Emma. A group of wealthy figures, once much closer before losing their children during World War One – Paul being the only one to have returned – meet to celebrate, however the day is much more emotional than expected. We see them grieve, undistracted by the fine weather, particularly a very brief selection of appearances from Olivia Colman. However, this theme is far from the main focus. There are a selection of ideas on display within the film, yet not all get a chance to come to the fore to be properly realised, on some occasions even by the audience. Instead they’re traded in for scenes focusing on the affair between Paul and maid Jane (Young), who has been given the day off by her employers the Nivens (Firth, Colman).
Largely the film acts as a fairly quiet and calm period piece, reflected in the relatively gentle nature in which the narrative passes. Going along smoothly without any real bumps in the road, both in terms of difficulty and emotional beats. You generally sit there and watch things pan out for the characters, interested at some points but without any real emotional connection to the film due to the fact that it doesn’t seem to go into much overall depth. We see jumps forward to an older Jane, struggling to write a book in her now happily married state with husband Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù. It builds up an image that there may be something dramatic and impactful arriving, although the jumps into the future themselves are still relatively calm. It perhaps makes the, perhaps, eventual dramatic point less impactful than perhaps expected, if anything continuing the pace and tone of much which has come before. Especially when such moments are delivered more as passed on news rather than being properly glimpsed, character emotion often seems to be less of a focus when compared to the design and luxury of many of the settings within the piece.
At one point I found myself making note of an excellent, rather satisfying, looking pie. It’s layers all neat, uniform and formally coordinated. It parallels the film itself. It feels organised and in order, but perhaps not always completely satisfying. It passes by without any major trouble or disturbance with a kind of standard British period drama feel to it – but perhaps with a fair bit more full-frontal nudity. It’s generally fine for what it is, but perhaps lacks the drama that it may want, thus limiting the impact. It dwells on the peaceful nature of the grand house in which Jane finds herself for much of the run-time, enjoying the lovely day that we’re so often reminded of. It is indeed a nice day, a calm one where there seems little to worry about and that could go wrong. A feeling which impacts the film as a whole and your view of it as things continue to travel along a calm path that never truly has an emotional impact, as if it’s become so relaxed and used to its state that, much like Paul and Jane when together, it doesn’t want to leave it.
For much of the run-time Mothering Sunday is a generally fine period piece for what it presents, however its uninterrupted gentle nature means it rarely delves into more dramatic reaches and lacks an emotional connection with the viewer.