LFF 2021: Mothering Sunday review – beautiful, but ultimately hollow

Cast: Odessa Young, Josh O’Connor, Olivia Colman, Colin Firth, Sope Dirisu. Directed by Eva Husson.


The legacy of Downton Abbey has a lot to answer for, not just the monopolization of Sunday night tea-time drama but the colossal success of the film has meant that there has been a rise in period dramas with little to no bite.

Director Eva Hussan directs what might well be the most toothless film about an affair ever made. Mothering Sunday follows maid Jane Fairchild as she awaits engages in an affair with a man from a well to do family, as well as her life years later.

It may be that the original novel by Graham Swift makes more sense, but there’s no sense from Alice Birch’s screenplay of what is going on. We find Jane in three different time periods with little to no explanation of what is going on. We spend much of the run time with her unclothed post-sex pining for her lover Paul (Josh O’Connor), then less time with her having become a successful writer with Sope Dirisu, and then finally as an elderly Glenda Jackson. 

Olivia Colman and Odessa Young in Mothering Sunday

These time periods might have held a little more weight if we had any understanding of their significance but the script doesn’t offer explanations about why they matter or what is going on. The post-world War One setting offers a melancholic aura around the whole situation, that Paul is the only surviving male heir for his wealthy family and must marry a woman from an equally wealthy family.

Unfortunately, as appealing as Odessa Young is in the lead role, Josh O’Connor appears to still be playing Prince Charles – not helped by the inclusion of a totally wasted Olivia Colman. For two people in a sexual affair, Young and O’Connor don’t have any chemistry to speak out, and for all the full frontal nudity (refreshingly male based) the sex scenes are lifeline and dull.

Moreover, the cast at large are wasted, not least Colman and Colin Firth who are allowed to do nothing more than to look sad and deflated. Firth is given a character with the range of a deflating balloon, and Colman appears to be staring of into the middle distance, probably dreaming of better films.

Hussan does have style, and can create an arresting image, car wreck is seen several times from above in a matter of fact way that haunts, people are framed just out of focus or from strange angles to show their mind set, but it’s all style with shockingly little substance.

There’s just very little forward momentum to the film, no reason for any of it to actually happen, and even as it does, there’s no passion of meaning in it so it remains on screen all but lifeless until it ends. Which is a shame given that there is a lot to be said for the cast assembled, and that costume dramas involving large amounts of nudity can be very interesting but the film has forgotten to actually include drama.

What we’re left with is a film that while at times is beautiful to look at feels hollow in the most extreme degree, prompting you to wonder why you bothered with it.

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Paul Klein

Paul is Film & Media Editor @ No Majesty. Paul is a Film Studies Graduate from London, and former writer at The Metropolist.

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