REVIEW: Eternal Beauty (Glasgow Film Festival 2020)
‘Don’t fight depression. Make friends with it’. The ballsy use of a hypnosis recording to relieve stress anchoring the opening credits of this Craig Roberts offering. He may have led a film called Submarine, yet Eternal Beauty is the vivid and vital tale of one woman’s life not going swimmingly as she first wondrously envisaged.
Days when you feel like you can tackle anything that this world can easily throw your way head-on, others where you can’t bear the thought of escaping the comfort of your bed, fearful of what awaits outside as you shut yourself away. In an age where the accessibility of mental health services has become a needless and ongoing strain on the minds of the many, I can only hope that the misguided people of those implementing such cuts have their eyes exposed to this tour-de-force from Sally Hawkins.
Blurring the lines between harsh reality and the idiosyncratic nature of her imagination. Hawkins’ Jane has never quite overcome the broken promise of wedded bliss in her younger years, as she’s left jilted at the altar with the deep blues of her bridesmaids’ dresses, perhaps the early indicator for the melancholy that would eventually consume her.
Once free-spirited, now riddled with anxiety and diagnosed, such fragility is only exacerbated by the cold stances in which many of her family members, particularly the fiery temper of her mother Vivian (Penelope Wilton) and the mean spirit that is her sister Nicola (Billie Piper) take, with only a slither of kindness to be found in Alice Lowe’s Alice. Not one to be alone with the troubles of her own thoughts, the introduction of David Thewlis’ aspiring artist Mike is quite literally music to her ears, enabling her to be more in tune with the world, if only for a few fleeting moments.
Litter too many quirks within the framework of a sensitive subject matter, it undoubtedly dilutes the power at the heart of the frame, which makes the balancing act director Craig Roberts achieves here even more remarkable. Whether it’s the warm consistency of a colour, in this case the red of Jane’s glasses in which she first sets eyes on Mike to banish the previous beige and blues, almost like she’s finally ready to invite love and affection into her life again. The white noise of a television screen to mirror the haze of the medication Jane does her utmost to not be so dependent on. To the everyday light of a lamppost and the ringing of a telephone box, poignantly conveying the chaos of our minds that we strive so hard to drown out, reinforcing to those who are too ignorant to understand. This isn’t a condition we can just switch off. It all serves its deeply affecting purpose, never wavering into territory that would be considered exploitative.
At one stage, Jane is gently peeling away at the grey walls. It could be interpreted as her wanting to simply be a blank canvas again. Looking to paint a better outlook, but it’s also the ideal signifier of how layered and truly special the film’s lead performance is. Her character may be fearful, but it takes a hell of a talent to be this fearless with what the role of Jane requires, and Sally Hawkins is indeed that. As expressive and honest a portrayal of mental health as I can recall, she will break your heart in equal measure with the flickers of positivity that are etched across her face and the trauma she navigates. She’s undoubtedly aided by the fantastic flippancy of Penelope Wilton’s mother figure and Billie Piper’s brash sister who is all too quick to exploit such a condition for financial gain, encapsulating the troubling attitudes many still have towards these issues.
Craig Roberts created a fitting title. From someone who has had his own share of problems, along with bearing witness to how debilitating it can be for fellow family members. The deep impact ‘Eternal Beauty’ had, will not be forgotten in a hurry. Exceptional.
Directed by: Craig Roberts
Written by: Craig Roberts
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Billie Piper, David Thewlis, Alice Lowe