(director:Eva Husson; screenwriters: from the novella by Graham Swift/Alice Birch; cinematographer: Janie Ramsay; editor: Emilie Orsini; music: Morgan Kibby; cast: Colin Firth (Mr. Niven), Olivia Colman (Mrs. Niven), Josh O’Connor (Paul Sheringham), Sope Dirisu (Donald), Odessa Young (Jane Fairchild), Glenda Jackson (Older Jane Fairchild), Patsy Ferran (), Charley Oscar (Chalie O’Connor), Emma D’Arcy (Emma, Daughter), Simon Shepherd (Giles Hobday), Caroline Harker (Sylvia Hobday), Craig Crosbie, (Mr. Sheringham) Emily Woof (); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: R; producers; Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley: Sony Pictures Classics; 2021-UK)
“On the plus side the performance by Odessa Young is a gem.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
It’s based on the 2016 novella by Graham Swift, and is written by Alice Birch. The director of the period drama is the French-born Eva Husson (“Girls of the Sun”/”Bang Gang: A Modern Love Story”). The setting is in 1924, a time between World Wars in Berkshire County, England.
Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young) is an orphan, sent by the orphanage to be a house-maid for the wealthy Nivens (Colin Firth and Olivia Colman) in the English countryside. The kindly Nivens have a strained relationship after losing their two sons in the Great War, as they can’t get over their loss.
The story’s first part takes place on Mother’s Day in 1924.
Though living a quiet life, Jane has an affair with the free-spirited upper-class charmer Paul, a neighbor of the Nivens’. The DP, Janie Ramsay, uses slow-motion nudity shots to depict the joy the lovers have together in their bedroom romps.
But Paul wouldn’t marry beneath him and is engaged to marry Emma Hobday (Caroline Harker), who comes from a wealthy family in his social circle.
The story picks up several decades later and Jane (now played by the great Glenda Jackson), is much older and is an established writer. She’s married to a Black man, a philosopher, Donald (Sope Dirisu), and is writing a book about her formative days as a maid and of her affair with Paul. Her husband is not aware of the affair.
The film’s premise is that Jane learned to be a good observer of life because of her experience as a servant. There’s a melancholic mood that sweeps over the entire story, which is a tender and lyrical one that captures the period’s sadness over its war losses.
The problem is there’s not enough story that’s exciting to add to its authentic depictions of country life in England between World Wars. But on the plus side the performance by Odessa Young is a gem, and Colin Firth is always good as a character actor. It’s a movie that should attract the Downtown Abbey viewer, and those looking for a gentle historical based film that can intelligently tell a low-key soap opera story without bending it out of shape.
REVIEWED ON 9/20/2021 GRADE: B-