Mental illness and movie quirk make awkward bedfellows, and there are times in Welsh actor Craig Roberts’s second film as writer-director that this uneasy relationship shows its uncomfortable side. But there’s also plenty of real, recognisable pain in Roberts’s story of Jane (Sally Hawkins), a woman living with a form of schizophrenia, whose illness isn’t helped by the various self-regarding, unsympathetic members of her family we meet, from her brittle, angry mum (Penelope Wilton) to her two world-weary sisters (Billie Piper, Alice Lowe, neither of whom get enough time to shine).
There’s a slight Miss Havisham vibe to the film’s framing as we flash back to an aborted wedding earlier in Jane’s life (when she’s played by Saint Maud’s Morfydd Clark) – but thankfully Eternal Beauty isn’t so simple as to suggest that day as the entire root cause of her health problems (even if it flirts with that idea). It can’t have helped, though, the film posits, and now Jane is really, truly struggling: buying Christmas presents for herself, putting her nephew in danger at the wheel of a car and diving into an erratic relationship with a kindred spirit (David Thewlis).
Roberts brings distinctive movie stylings (Wes Anderson on downers, you could say) to the drabness of suburban South Wales, but there are too many moments when the most interesting things in the room are the wallpaper or the furniture. Eternal Beauty has moments of sharp black comedy and others of genuinely troubling tragedy. Hawkins – genius star of Happy-Go-Lucky and The Shape of Water – is never less than compelling. But the fits and starts never cohere into something properly convincing or coherent.
In UK cinemas now.