The French director of Bang Gang: A Modern Love Story isn’t the obvious choice for British period drama, but Eva Husson nails it with this atmospheric 1920s-set feature based on Graham Swift’s novella. Adapted by Lady Macbeth screenwriter Alice Birch, it stars Josh O’Connor as Paul, an engaged upper-class fellow having a secret affair with a neighbour’s maid, Jane (Odessa Young). The pair are rarely clothed, but this is more about intimacy than erotica, exploring the contrasting ways that the different classes behave both in and out of bed.
It’s also a moving depiction of grief from a supporting cast of Oscar-winning heavyweights: Olivia Colman and Colin Firth play a couple who have lost their sons in World War I. She’s silent and miserable, apart from one heartbreaking outburst; he’s putting on a jovial show and repressing his sadness, all stiff upper lip. The event of Mothering Sunday does not feel like a celebration, however much champagne they drink in the beautiful English countryside. It’s a sad indictment of a society unable to articulate its grief and sorrow. Even the conflicted Paul only feels liberated with Jane, yet their romance seems doomed.
A moving drama that shifts back and forwards in time to paint a portrait of its characters’ lives, Mothering Sunday is particularly satisfying when it focuses on Jane, who’s beautifully portrayed by rising Aussie star Young. Ultimately, this is the story of the author Jane is to become, when she’s briefly played by Glenda Jackson. There’s also a key role for Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù (His House).
Mothering Sunday isn’t exactly a cheery watch, but it’s an intelligent, affecting British drama with a splash of French sensuality.
In UK cinemas Nov 12.