Critical Losses

Eva Husson is the French director who made an impression with 2015’s Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) and 2018’s Girls Of The Sun. She returns with Mothering Sunday, an adaptation of the novel by Graham Swift. Set in the 1920s, in an English village where several families lost sons during World War I, it stars Josh O’Connor as Paul Sheringham, soon-to-be-married but entwined in an affair with a maid, Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young). We talk to the director about bringing Swift’s book to the big screen.

ASFF: How did you find getting into this very English story?
I just connected to the emotional side of things. During the shoot, I realised there was a real thing about social class… but I did not spend too much time trying to think about it. I was more interested in cinematic questions: how do you convey memory? What are the narrative strategies? I worked very, very closely with my composer [Morgan Kibby] who I’ve known for twenty years, and happens to be my best friend. We talked literally every day, from prep to post-production. It’s not just about acting, or writing or directing, editing and music. How do you manage to bake that cake?

ASFF: Where were you shooting in England?
EH: We were shooting around London. England is one of the most beautiful countries and I’ve travelled a lot. One of the reasons why I was so into making the movie, visually, was that I have this memory of a trip I took. I took a mobile home and we drove around for a week. It was Easter weekend, around that time. It was a symphony of flowers – it was incredible. I had no idea because there is this snobbery in France about England. Why would you ever go there? We’re idiots! It’s incredible and so magical and then I understood a lot of English literature.

ASFF: What led you to cast Odessa Young as Jane Fairchild?
When I finally saw her in Shirley, she was incredible and I just knew. She’s a remarkably intelligent actress and we would discuss things. I love actors who are like, “I think that’s wrong.” The actors I tend to get drawn to are intelligent actors who understand things that I don’t, and I think it’s very interesting to confront two visions.

ASFF: What impressed you about the way she took on Jane?
She really gave Jane an incredible evolution. Of course, it happens in the text, but it happens physically through the way Odessa carried herself also. When she’s a very, very young woman, she’s sort of absorbing the world. She doesn’t speak too much. And yet when she’s comfortable, she talks very simply [in the scenes] in the library. But then the older she gets, the more comfortable she gets in her skin and with the world around her and she interacts in a different way with everyone, and she just carries herself in a different way.

ASFF: Finally, how was it to work with the legendary Glenda Jackson, who plays the older Jane?
EH: I will be very honest, I didn’t know much about Glenda Jackson, for cultural reasons. She was insanely big in the Anglo-Saxon world. Not necessarily so much on the other side of the channel. But then I got less ignorant and I just realised she was a force of nature.

Mothering Sunday opens in cinemas from 12 November. Watch the trailer here.

James Mottram