Greetings again from the darkness. Every writer has a story about what inspired them to put words on the page. What we have here is Eva Husson directing a script from Alice Birch (LADY MACBETH, 2016) who has adapted the 2016 novella from British author Graham Swift. We follow Jane Fairchild through three stages, as her work as a maidservant allows her to become “an occupational observer of life.”
It’s Mothers’ Day 1924 and Jane (Odessa Young, SHIRLEY, 2020) is anticipating her latest romantic tryst with Paul Sheringham (Josh O’Connor, EMMA., 2020). Both know this is their final time together, and they take full advantage. Jane’s employers, Godfrey and Clarrie Niven, are meeting Paul’s parents for a celebratory luncheon with Emma (Emma D’Arcy), the ‘proper’ woman Paul is to marry. Oscar winner Colin Firth (THE KING’S SPEECH, 2010) and Oscar winner Oliva Colman (THE FAVOURITE, 2018) play the Nivens, and deaths from WWI hang over all of these families like the darkest of clouds.
The story is told in non-linear fashion, with Jane and Paul’s final lovemaking session being that which all other events seem to revolve. We also spend some time with Jane in her 40’s as she is living with her philosopher husband Donald (Sope Dirisu), and then in her 80’s as she is celebrated as a renowned and prize-winning author. In this last stage, Jane is surprisingly played by the great Glenda Jackson, a two-time Oscar winner (A TOUCH OF CLASS, 1973, and WOMEN IN LOVE, 1969), who has only appeared in a handful of TV movies these past thirty years. Ms. Jackson turns 86 next month, and spent time as an elected member of Parliament. She’s always been an interesting person, and it’s terrific to see her back on the big screen – even if she only gets a couple of brief scenes followed by one substantial one near the end.
It’s a beautiful film and it’s sensuously photographed, though maybe a bit odd in that it focuses so diligently on the visuals (thanks to cinematographer Jamie D Ramsay), while actually following a woman’s journey into writing. Love (or lack of it) and grief and life’s transitions are all on display, as are the harsh realities of class differences. Ms. Young and Mr. O’Connor are both terrific, and though she has minimal screen time, we are stunned again at just how much emotion Ms. Colman can convey with her face.
Memories and recollections of “that day” play a crucial role as the mature Jane wrestles with writing her novel … one that her publisher expects to be a thriller. Of course, we watch as Jane’s story plays out, so we know where her writing is headed. The film has a vagueness to its storytelling that prevents us from ever fully engaging with Jane or any of the rich, sad people, yet it’s such a beautiful film to look at that we never seem to mind.
In theaters on April 8, 2022