It’s a sunny spring day in the English countryside in 1924, when three aristocratic couples meet for a picnic lunch to celebrate the engagement of two of their offspring.
It should be a happy event but an overwhelming feeling of sadness hangs in the air. They are all grieving the loss of their sons in the First World War, which ended six years earlier.
Paul Sherington (Josh O’Connor – Prince Charles in The Crown), the only remaining son, is to marry Emma (Emma D’Arcy), whose former fiance was among those who were killed.
Paul is in no hurry to get to the lunch. He is spending a lingering last few hours with his secret lover, Jane Fairchild, an orphan who works as a maid for his parents’ neighbours, the Nivens (Colin Firth and Olivia Colman).
Both Jane (a triumphant role for Australian actress Odessa Young) and Paul know well that it is unthinkable for him to marry a housemaid, though they have been lovers for years. He must marry a suitable partner and produce suitable grandchildren.
Their leisurely love-making and final confidences, both naked and unashamed in his bedroom while his parents are away at the lunch, is the centrepiece in this beautifully realised film by director Eva Husson.
The nudity was clearly shocking to a couple of older women sitting near us on the night we saw the film. “It’s pornography,” they whispered.
But Young carries off the extended nude scene beautifully as she strolls down the staircase and makes an unhurried exploration of the house after she is left there alone.
This is a film in three discrete sections which jumps from period to period as it traces Jane’s career as a writer, from her youthful days as a maid to a final cameo, featuring Glenda Jackson, when she is lauded as an award-winning author.
Mothering Sunday, based on a novel by Graham Swift, will appeal to lovers of richly detailed British period dramas, with fine acting from heavyweights Firth, Colman and Jackson as well as Young and O’Connor, though it may be slightly disconcerting for some followers of The Crown to find Prince Charles as the romantic lead.
The film reflects the tragic legacy of the 1914-18 World War, when a generation of young men were lost.
The affair between the young blue-blood and the below-stairs maid could have been exploitative but appears as a poignant but hopeless case of true love.
Mothering Sunday is now showing at The Windsor, Luna Leederville and Luna On SX.
Watch the trailer…