Directed by Eva Husson, Mothering Sunday tells the story of Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young), a housekeeper to the wealthy Evans family in 1924. When their neighbour Paul (Josh O’Connor) invites their family over to celebrate his engagement, Jane is given the day off to do as she pleases. However, despite his family’s insistence on marriage to another, Paul and Jane have been involved in an affair for quite some time. What’s more, as the film leaps forward in time and Jane reflects back on her life, she begins to wrestle with the things that have mattered most to her and the pain she has felt along the way.
Told over the course of one woman’s lifetime, Mothering Sunday unspools as a fractured narrative that explores Jane’s broken journey towards satisfaction within her soul. Although much of the story takes place in a WWI setting, Husson’s tale of love and loss is divided up into three alternating timelines, allowing the film to ebb and flow between moments that matter within Jane’s life. By taking this approach, Husson allows each chapter within Jane’s story to affect the next yet also feel like a fully singular journey as well.
As Jane, Young does a wonderful job portraying the character at multiple points of her life. From the innocence of youth to the wisdom that comes with experience, Young brings an honesty to each performance that makes her feel present in each scene. It’s worth noting that her courageousness becomes particularly noticeable in scenes which require her to be nude for much of the time. As a young woman, Young’s dignity shines through as Jane explores her lover’s mansion with confidence and humility. These moments are non-exploitative and (mostly) non-sexual. Instead, like Eve in the proverbial Garden of Eden, they reveal her innocence and openness to the world around her.
Admittedly, all the time-shifting does mean that Sunday can be a little bit jarring at times. While each story is told beautifully, the constant changing of perspectives does require patience for the viewer to see how this rich tapestry of life weaves together. Yet this stylistic choice seems appropriate as each segment of Jane‘s life has its own story to tell yet blends into one another seamlessly.
In her youth, Jane lives her life with vibrant enthusiasm. When she’s given time to herself, she feels that ‘the world is her oyster’. However, being embroiled in a complicated relationship with her neighbor is taking a toll on her. Working as a housekeeper in an upper-class home, she yearns to be accepted by her lover. Although she believes as though their love is real, it remains saddled with expectations and he is unwilling to break his family’s wishes.
Years later, her life finds more stability. Working as an author, she is in a committed relationship with a new man who enjoys discussing philosophy and deeply cares for her. Although she is struggling through her next book, the support of her lover builds her up and encourages her in her most frustrating of moments. However, when traumatic events ensue, her commitment to love is tested once again. For Jane, her success is important… but tragedy forces her to put other things in her life into perspective.
When held in juxtaposition with one another, her life moments reveal Jane’s attempt to navigate both love and personal accomplishments. As a youth, the toxicity of wealth and privilege damaged her soul. When she finally makes a name for herself, love is threatened by forces outside of her control. Despite her successful career, she wonders whether or not the accolades she has received outweigh the value of those who have cared for her throughout her journey. As she moves through her life, her priorities between love and success begin to shift and she gradually puts greater weight on relationships over notoriety.
In essence, Sunday emphasizes the fact that loving others outweighs the glory associated with wealth.
Poetic and often poignant, Mothering Sunday is an elegant exploration of youth and womanhood. More importantly though, the film’s real power comes as it speaks to our need to give and receive love over honors.
Mothering Sunday is available in theatres on Friday, April 8th, 2022 in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.