VOD film review: Eternal Beauty
Matthew Turner | On 02, Oct 2020
Director: Craig Roberts
Cast: Sally Hawkins, David Thewlis, Billie Piper, Alice Lowe, Penelope Wilton, Robert Pugh, Morfydd Clark, Paul Hilton
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Eternal Beauty is the second feature from actor-turned-writer-director Craig Roberts, following 2015’s Just Jim. Touching on some of the same ideas and featuring a standout performance from Sally Hawkins, it’s an impressive outing that confirms Roberts’ distinctive voice as a filmmaker.
Set in a nondescript suburban housing estate in what looks like the 1980s, the film stars Hawkins as Jane, a 30-something woman who’s struggled with depression and schizophrenia ever since being left at the altar, over a decade ago (Morfydd Clark plays the younger Jane). Her problems aren’t helped by her decidedly unsympathetic mother (Penelope Wilton) and bullying sister Nicola (Billie Piper), although she’s patiently supported by her younger sister, Alice (Alice Lowe).
The clouds begin to lift for Jane when she begins a relationship with Mike (David Thewlis), although he has mental health problems of his own (they meet in a doctor’s waiting room). Their connection encourages Jane to come to terms with her problems and finally stand up to her family, but is Mike all that he seems?
The tone of the film takes a little getting used to because, right from the start, we’re questioning what’s real and what’s in Jane’s head, or whether what we’re seeing is real but filtered through her perspective. Effectively, the film is an ever-shifting combination of all three possibilities and the fact that Roberts manages to make it both cohesive and compelling is a testament to the strength of his writing and direction.
Roberts also has an excellent grasp of comic timing and he knows the value of a good payoff – a set-up involving a Christmas present that leads to one of the film’s best moments. It’s also the sort of film that will reward repeated viewings, as it’s layered with a number of recurring phrases and images that will take on different meanings the second time round.
On top of that, Roberts has cast the film to perfection. Hawkins is simply terrific as Jane – it’s easy to see her quirky mannerisms as irritating at first, but the more time you spend with her, the more she draws you in. It’s an achingly tender, profoundly sympathetic performance that shows a real understanding of mental health issues.
Thewlis is well cast too – there are echoes of his sensational turn as Johnny in Mike Leigh’s Naked – and the relationship he sparks with Jane is utterly charming. This is accentuated by some lovely touches in Roberts’ direction – when Mike comes into Jane’s life, he brings music and laughter and singing and dancing (the soundtrack is also great).
There are excellent turns from the supporting cast – indeed, the film is worth seeing just for Billie Piper’s turn as the sister from hell, and she delivers a performance that makes you hunger to see her in more lead roles. Similarly, Penelope Wilton is smartly cast against type (it’s distinctly unsettling to see her swear so much), while Alice Lowe provides a note of warmth and humanity as Alice.
In short, this is a strikingly directed picture that has its own unique tone and takes you on a rewarding emotional journey. Great last line too.