With the news that one or two of the main cinema chains in the UK have made the touch decision to close their doors for the foreseeable future, it’s been a tough couple of days for British film fans. I cross my fingers the Cineworld and Odeon and come through this testing period for the industry, and at the same time I count my blessings that, as of yet, my local Curzon has not yet had to take such drastic action. Doing my bit to help them keep going, I headed in to see a film about which I knew absolutely nothing.
Written and directed by Craig Roberts, Eternal Beauty tells the story of Jane (Sally Hawkins), a woman living with paranoid schizophrenia. The film takes us on several ‘day in the life’ journeys with Jane, from interactions with her sisters (Billie Piper and Alice Lowe) to her parents (Penelope Wilton and Robert Pugh) to a tentative romance with fellow mental health patient Mike (David Thewlis), revealing all of the different ways in which the ups and down of her condition impact upon her life.
I won’t beat around the bush on this one; Eternal Beauty is a brilliant hidden gem of a movie. With such a heavy subject matter at its core, the film somehow still manages to present itself as a black comedy masterpiece, one that has you laughing out loud one second and crying the next. In the past I have criticised films about mental illness for going down the road of making the film impenetrable to replicate the psychological state of the character, but Eternal Beauty succeeds in holding an engaging and accessible narrative whilst also emphasising the fragmented nature of Jane’s existence.
Rather than fighting for understanding in the film (I’m looking at you, I’m Thinking Of Ending Things), you very much feel a part of what is going on in Eternal Beauty. You celebrate in Jane’s good moments and you despair in the bad, all the while feeling like you have a full grasp of the narrative. Some people like to get lost and mentally fight with a film, but I prefer to feel like I’m being included and this picture definitely does that despite its challenging subject matter.
Despite showcasing some of the very worst that a condition like schizophrenia can lay on a sufferer, somehow Eternal Beauty still manages to come out feeling like one of those optimistic, offbeat, eccentric ‘feel good’ movies that us Brits tend to have a wonderful knack of making. The film effortlessly finds the funny in some of the worst personal situations that a person can find themselves in, from severe mental illness to the death of a parent to family estrangement. Not the that two films necessarily need any kind of comparison, but I could not help as I was watching Eternal Beauty thinking about how much better, how much more effectively this small, indie picture portrays the real nuance of mental illness than every film bro’s new favourite, Joker.
It probably won’t surprise you to hear that Sally Hawkins is absolutely amazing as Jane. As much as a BAFTA and Oscar nominated actress can be, I firmly believe that Hawkins is still one of the most inconspicuously underrated actresses of her generation, of several generations! Her performance as Jane is one that pays reverence to the debilitation of paranoid schizophrenia, whilst at the same time still finding those golden moments of control and relative ‘normality’ that display the constant up and down of such a condition.
Hawkins’ birdlike fragility both in body and in mind here create a character that at times is able to completely shock the audience with the big words and actions that come out of such a diminutive person. She nails the humour, she nails the drama, she nails the pshycicality and the sensitivity. Eternal Beauty might end up being too small scale for widespread awards recognition, but I’ll be very disappointed if Sally Hawkins doesn’t turn a few Best Actress voting heads across the board.
Fleshed out by a number of great supporting performances from the likes of Penelope Wilton, Billie Piper, Alice Lowe and David Thewlis, everything about Eternal Beauty feels like small scale excellence. A understandable lack of big budget bombastics is substituted here with genuinely interesting cinematography and stellar acting that dispels the need for anything more. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the film is small, but it is certainly mighty.
Overall, Eternal Beauty was an amazing little early October surprise for me, one that I didn’t see coming at all but certainly one that I am grateful for. A powerhouse performance by Sally Hawkins is just the tip of the iceberg on this one. Come for the promise of a Best Actress worthy turn, and stay for everything else that this black comedy drama has to offer. Straight into my top ten for the year!