sun 16/06/2024

Eternal Beauty review - imagination in every frame | reviews, news & interviews

Eternal Beauty review - imagination in every frame

Eternal Beauty review - imagination in every frame

Craig Roberts's fantasy conjurs surreal images and magnetic performances

Sally Hawkins and David Threwlis turn in some career-best performances

Barring a few outliers, British indies tend to follow the same formula: serious subjects told seriously. Whether it’s a council estate, a rural farm, or a seaside town, you can always rely on that trademark tension and realism we Brits do so well.

What a shock to the system Eternal Beauty is then, filled with more imagination than almost anything else out this year.

Sally Hawkins stars as Jane, a woman struggling to keep a grasp of her mental health. Her issues are compounded by her sociopathic mother (Penelope Wilton), narcissistic sister (Billie Piper), and a fiancée that dumped her at the altar. So far, so serious. But Jane’s world is a surreal one, filled with light and pastels when she’s up, and darkness and decay when she’s down. We viewers are no fly-on-the-wall, but witnesses of her mind’s eye.

On his first feature Just Jim, director/writer Craig Robert’s faced criticism of style over substance. Here, he’s blossomed into a truly unique voice in British cinema. Every scene is composed with purpose, combining cinematography and set design to further Jane’s personal journey. This is a film where you can study every frame, or just let it wash over you.Sally Hawkins in Eternal BeautyThe plotting is as unreliable as our lead, swaying and crashing in different directions as Jane’s pills are taken and forgotten. At one point, she kidnaps her nephew and reveals she’s actually his mother. Is this true? Probably not. She might not have even really told him. After a particularly troubling birthday party, she’s back on the meds.

A steadying force comes into the fray when Jane means David Thewlis’s Mike in a doctor’s office. He’s an erratic but seemingly genuine soul, and completely besotted with Jane. Together, the two achieve a rather dreamlike state together, dancing around and snogging in stairwells. To "normal" people, they look unstable, but through this hazy lens, so does everyone else.

With a cast that includes Hawkins, Thewlis and Wilton, you could just leave the camera running and know you’ll get a good performance. However, it’s extraordinary that Roberts is able to coax out perhaps three career-best performances from such established actors. Their belief in the material is self-evident, and it’s a true pleasure to see them stick their teeth into these flawed and fascinating characters.

Like Jane herself, sometimes the story gets overwhelmed by all of its ideas. Questions are asked and forgotten, and unusual tidbits like undrinkable glasses of water are left unexplained. There’s no big reveal, or satisfying denouement, and those searching for one might be left short-changed. The overriding truth of the film is like reality itself – left to each person’s individual interpretation. Who can say what, if anything, carries real meaning?

As a visual and audio experience, Eternal Beauty is simply stunning. The locations morph and shift through the lens, while Michael Price’s score provides swells of orchestral majesty. Although not everything hits the mark, what director won’t be inspired to take more risks after watching this film?


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