Craig Roberts is still only 29, which makes Eternal Beauty all the more remarkable. He’s still probably best known to most as the kid from Submarine (despite that film being made ten years ago), and for his forays into Hollywood in films like 21 Jump Street and Red Lights. But he’s since carved himself out a career as a director, beginning with 2015’s Just Jim, in which he starred with Emile Hirsch.
While that was a coming-of-age comedy clearly inspired by Roberts’ time on Submarine, Eternal Beauty marks a considerable step up in maturity and ambition. Sally Hawkins, who played Roberts’ mother in both Submarine and 2011’s Jane Eyre, takes the lead in her first significant role since her Oscar-nominated turn in The Shape of Water (we can discount her bit-part in last year’s risible Godzilla: King of the Monsters).
She plays Jane, a singleton who suffers from schizophrenia. A flashback tells us she was jilted at the altar when she was younger (played by rising star Morfydd Clark), an event that she’s never recovered from. She now also has to contend with her terrible family, who aren’t exactly sympathetic to the cause – whether its mother Vivian (Penelope Wilton) or bitchy sister Nicola (Billie Piper).
Still, this is not a tale of absolute woe, with Roberts finding a strain of gentle humour – notably in a particularly comical birthday present scene. Jane also finds love, of sorts, with aspiring singer-songwriter Mike (David Thewlis), also suffering from mental health issues, although this is never going to be a hearts-and-flowers romance. Sensitively written and played out, this feels like a Mike Leigh movie crossed with Wes Anderson at times.
Set in a drab suburban housing development, the film’s finest moments come with Roberts getting inside Jane’s head, with voices and colours affecting her well-being. Using the camera smartly, it’s a clever way into her psyche, and immediately draws sympathy. Hawkins, who is something of a specialist at conjuring up fragile characters, is hugely impressive; there probably isn’t a better actress of her age working in Britain today. A film of much compassion and, yes, beauty.
Eternal Beauty is in cinemas and on digital from 2 October. For more details, click here.