Eternal Beauty review: a difficult watch, a very good movie

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Sally Hawkins, Morfydd Clark and David Thewlis star in Eternal Beauty, from director Craig Roberts – and here’s our review of the film.

Written and directed by actor turned director Craig Roberts, Eternal Beauty opens with the soothing wisdom of a hypnosis tape – “don’t fight depression, make friends with it.” This proves to be the central message at the heart of the film.

Sally Hawkins (The Shape Of Water, Blue Jasmine) plays Jane, a woman with paranoid schizophrenia living on medication, who has auditory hallucinations through radio and TV broadcasts, and receives calls on a bright red telephone – a lover’s voice purring sweet nothings and persuasive instructions. This is contrasted with flashbacks of young Jane (Morfydd Clark), a beautiful young pageant girl who’s jilted at the altar, then has a breakdown, is hospitalised, and subjected to electroshock therapy.

Living in a semi-independent way, Jane has a good sense of what she wants. She buys and wraps her own Christmas presents ‘from’ her family, gleefully receiving them and giving them the receipts to pay her back. But when Jane becomes entangled with Mike (David Thewlis in a barnstormer performance), who is deeply flawed with his own challenges, their tragic romance ultimately leads Jane to unravel again.

Jane is witty, observant and surprisingly resilient. A magnetic Hawkins shows the full kaleidoscope of the character at different points – skittish, frenetic, chaotic, childlike, through to comatose and catatonic, reclusive and withdrawn, but always deeply loveable. It’s a masterclass in the craft of acting.

There’s a strong supporting cast as Jane’s broken family. Penelope Wilton plays against type as Jane’s mother – not the delightful figure we’re used to – who dances along the fine line of pushy parent and absolute monster. In one scene, she barks at young Jane, “you’re making it difficult for people to like you.” Alice Lowe is her supportive sister with a troubled marriage who displays great patience and tenderness for Jane. Then there’s the sulky other sister, a benefit cheat, Nicola, Jane’s pageant rival (Billie Piper).

You’re left unsure of what’s real or fantasy, but you see it all from Jane’s unique perspective. This is all aided by the visual style and production design – reminiscent of Wes Anderson or Michel Gondry – but not quirky for quirk’s sake. The colour palette moves through Jane’s world as she scales the story beats, from grey, beige and dulled tones, through to pastels and primary colours in costumes, props and interiors. The time period is also unclear – a blend of vintage styles which creates a landscape of a world entirely of its itself.

Though there are some laughs, experiencing Jane’s journey is moving and, at times, hard to watch. You’re left feeling so much empathy for her that you shouldn’t be surprised if you shed a tear. Overall, the film tackles mental health issues in a powerful and respectful way. It’s clear Roberts has a personal connection to the subject matter and has put in the research to avoid textbook depictions, offering us a look through a beautiful if fractured window into the mindset of a superhero living through it.


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