With a screenplay by Alice Birch (Lady Macbeth), directed by Eva Husson (Girls of the Sun) and featuring a stellar cast including Odessa Young, Josh O’Connor, Olivia Colman, Colin Firth, and Glenda Jackson, Mothering Sunday is an exquisite adaptation of Booker Prize-winning author Graham Swift’s eponymous novella.
Jane (Young) works as a maid for the Nivens (Colman and Firth), a ‘grand family who, like so many others, have lost their sons on the battlefields of the First World War. Jane has begun a secret affair with Paul (O’Connor), son of the Nivens’ neighbours, the Sheringhams. Paul is the only member of his peer group to return from the front, a status that has left him struggling with survivor’s guilt and a weighty sense of duty to his family, who expects him to pursue a legal career and marry a woman of his station — not the likes of Jane. On her day off, Jane meets with Paul at his house while his parents are away. There is a sense of quiet idyll to their stolen hours of lovemaking and Jane’s gentle exploration of this world of wealth and prestige. Yet a double shadow hangs over this precious day, arising from the horrors of the recent past and the disappointments and sacrifices looming in the pair’s future.
Husson and director of photography Jamie Ramsay bring a vibrant physicality to this period setting, creating a tangible intimacy and sense of place – of bodies, overripe flowers, but also typewriter keys and old books in libraries and Sandy Powell’s gorgeous costumes. Mothering Sunday will transport you to Britain’s interwar years for a story of grief, responsibility, and hidden love.
British Film Institute (BFI), Lionsgate