Eva Husson’s forbidden romance loses itself in stylistic choices
Forbidden romances can be one of the most affecting ways to latch onto viewers emotionally. This concept has been around since Shakespeare and has become intrinsically paired with the repressed British customs seen in films such as The Remains of the Day (1993). The latest British narrative to explore this unbearable repression and hidden passion is Mothering Sunday (2021).
Mothering Sunday takes place primarily in 1924 rural England, where we follow Jane (Odessa Young) a who is having a secret affair with the wealthy heir Paul (Josh O’Connor). The film revolves around the last moment that Paul and Jane can spend together before Paul is set for an arranged marriage.
Mothering Sunday is directed by Eva Husson, who delivers her most high-profile film yet. There is a clear attempt at bringing a distinct style to the story, so that Husson can stand-out from similarly themed films that preceded Mothering Sunday. As such we get a curated and detailed cinematography that flits between close-ups of touches and breaths between the two lovers. Husson is able to impart an effective immersion in scenes that prove key to viewers understanding the lovers’ plight.
Husson, unfortunately, also employs a stream-of-consciousness editing style that jumps in time to a future Jane who has become an author. The lack of announcement between these time jumps and the fact that they appear for five seconds or so before jumping around chronologically again proves to be more confusing than original. This editing choice robs the film of the weight that a built-up romance and impending doom would have. Since Husson doesn’t let each time jump breathe enough, viewers aren’t able to digest the changes of Jane’s life and character, and consequently connect the contrasts that Husson was aiming at. As such, moments that should have been rife with tension become flatter as you are unsure when they are taking place.
Thankfully, Husson is blessed with a talented cast. Young has to carry much of the film on her back, and both play a young and old version of herself. Young is more than up to the task and demonstrates why she’s one of the more exciting up-and-coming British actors. Her acting might at times be a bit too calculated, which works in the favor of scenes of repression, but becomes an impediment in the free-flowing romantic scenes where she appears too stiff. O’Connor, another promising British thespian, discovers a new range of his capabilities. In contrast with his work in The Crown (2016-), O’Connor is disinhibited, showing a giddy boy in love with subtle sadness in his eyes. This naturalness to O’Connor’s clashes incongruously with Young’s more meticulous performance and it scratches away at a chemistry that is crucial to the Mothering Sunday. However, since we don’t see both performers together often, their individual scenes effectively standout.
Mothering Sunday is an intriguing forbidden romance that gets lost as Husson tries to showcase her distinct style. A more simplified story would have focused and accentuated the dynamics that Husson loses in her shuffle. The result is a softened blow of the emotional gut-punch and heart-wrenching scenes. However, with the help of two strong performers and a gaggle of veteran supporting roles (Colin Firth, Olivia Coleman) Mothering Sunday retains a veneer of intrigue.