MOTHERING SUNDAY – Review by Jennifer Merin

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Eva Huson’s steamy and feminist Mothering Sunday is an epic multi-chapter drama that begins in post-World War I England, in a lush and lavish rural enclave where well-to-do upper crusty families are suffering traumatic grief from the deaths of their sons in the war to end all wars. The multifaceted drama focuses its lens on the British class system, particularly on the ways in which women of all classes are expected to keep a stiff upper lip, denying their personal ambitions and repressing their grief.

Adapted by Alice Birch from Graham Swift’s eponymous novella, the nonlinear script is replete with revealing flash backs and forwards, but always centers on Jane Fairchild (a fetching Odessa Young), whose story arc spans several decades divided into three distinct phases of her life. Jane starts her career as a well-mannered house maid who grew up in an orphanage and is in service to a well-to-do couple (Colin Firth and Olivia Colman) who are grieving the death of their sons in the war. Jane is drawn to literature and has a keen observational eye — and her observations are brilliantly reflected in the exceptionally detailed camerawork of cinematographer Jamie Ramsay.

Young Jane is passionately in love and is engaged in a very tender and strictly secret affair with a neighboring family’s son, Paul Sheringham (Josh O’Connor). Having survived the war, Paul is class-trapped by his family into an engagement to a women he doesn’t love. On her day off, Jane rushes to meet Paul in his posh bedroom for a steamy final tryst that leaves no question about the passion they feel for each other. No spoilers, but after their illicit affair has a tragic end, Jane leaps forward into the next chapter in her life (and the movie).

Jane gives notice and leaves her job as a house maid to start working as a salesclerk in a book shop. The new position is ideal for her. She’s an aspiring writer and when the shop owner gives her a typewriter, she transforms her scribbled notes into a manuscript, and she soon sells her work to a publisher and becomes quite a successful author.

She also finds happiness with a new lover, a philosopher who adores her and supports her work. Again, no spoilers, but bliss again eludes Jane and she is left bereft. Writing, however, sustains her and eventually — in the final chapter of her life (and the movie), after she (now played by Glenda Jackson) has won numerous literary prizes, she reflects on her life’s trajectory and is at peace with herself.

Mothering Sunday is sufficiently replete with intriguing plot complications that will keep you engaged and entertained. It might seem a bit soapy, were it not for the authenticity of its concerns, as well as its profoundly well-written and beautifully performed characters. The film is a very welcome invitation to finely crafted, socially conscious escapism.

EDITOR’S NOTE:MOTHERING SUNDAY is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for March 25, 2022.

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).