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Film Review: Mothering Sunday

Director:      Eva Husson

Cast:    Colin Firth, Odessa Young, Josh O’Conner, Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù, Glenda Jackson, Olivia Colman, Patsy Ferran, Emma D’Arcy

Rating:       MA

Running Time:      111

Australian Distributor:       Transmission Films

 

Based on a novel of the same name by Graham Swift, the film opens we are in the last days of World War One.  The tone is one of suppressed grief and rage.  Three upper class families meet over a weekend in Henley. It becomes clear that one of them has lost both of their children in the war: the father (Colin Firth) represses this knowledge with banal cheeriness while the mother (Olivia Colman) looks sullen and detached but occasionally flares up into tears and deeply selfish condescension. 

Another family has lost two sons already, and the third, played by Josh O’Connor has inherited all their hopes and burdens. He must now study law and marry his deceased brother’s fiancée.  He rebels by shagging the neighbour’s maid (Odessa Young) and vast amounts of the film consist of them lying naked on a bed, or – once he departs for an engagement lunch – her wandering aimlessly naked around his house. This is basically 70% of the film. Will anything happen? No. Not even when a major event happens. There’s no confrontation. No dramatic tension.

We then flash forward at intervals to the maid’s second love – a black philosopher. Oh, we think, this could be really fascinating. How does a black man navigate Oxford in the 1920s? What prejudice do they face as a mixed-race couple? But no. Zero drama or character exploration here. Pretty girl gets typewriter and supportive boyfriend. We don’t see it. Grows up to be Glenda Jackson. Is insufferably arrogant. 
A major positive for the film is the fantastic cast hidden behind these unremarkable characters. Olivia Coleman and Colin Firth are completely wasted as supporting characters that are provided almost no level of depth. Firth delivers the most promise out of the cast, but even so, his material desperately needed fleshed out.
Mothering Sunday snaps into autopilot mode, and slips into the typical formula audiences thought the film had elevated itself above.  Based on its efficiency, Husson’s mediocre drama receives a faint passing grade, though there’s still so much to be desired.

 



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