A Maid’s Day Off Changes the Course of Her Life in ‘Mothering Sunday’

WWhere do these writers originate? Can they be born? Are observational skills possible to learn and improve or is it something that must be present in the person? Those are some of the questions that Eva Husson’s intimate but piercing little film Mothering Sunday Addresses, either directly or indirectly. Jane (Odessa Young), a young housemaid in 1924 England, uses her day off for a secret assignation with Paul (Josh O’Connor), a toff from a neighboring estate who’s engaged to be married to a class-appropriate beauty (Emma D’Arcy). Paul’s house is empty: the servants are off visiting their mothers for the holiday; his parents are at a luncheon, one at which he too is expected to make an appearance; and his brothers are dead, killed in the war. He is still feeling heavy and finds comfort in his bed with Jane.

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Though Jane cares for Paul, their class differences don’t make her needy or vulnerable. She enjoys sleeping with him, but she isn’t looking to him for longtime fulfilment. She has her sights set on something else: she’s going to become a writer, but that isn’t so much an ambition as a drive that lives deep inside her. (The much older Jane, the one who has turned her experiences into a life’s work, is played by a brusquely moving Glenda Jackson.) In one of the film’s most remarkable scenes, Jane pads alone, naked and self-assured, through Paul’s large, drafty house, examining paintings, furniture, and the books in the library before heading to the kitchen for some meat pie and a bottle of beer—she belches after a hearty swig of the latter.

Mothering Sunday—adapted by Alice Birch from Graham Swift’s 2016 novel of the same name—is set in a sorrowful period of British history, when so many were mourning their lost sons. Colin Firth, Olivia Colman portray such a sad couple. It is arty and decorative, but it would be better if there were fewer swimming camera movements. Young gives it a charming, fluid grace. Jane is not a victim. She keeps going after what she wants and remains resilient even when faced with loss. Jane’s life is a huge exploration that goes beyond the boundaries of any country estate.

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