Eternal Beauty review: Sally Hawkins is ‘captivating’ in study of mental illness

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It has been clear for years that Craig Roberts is a talented young actor, but does his skill for tapping into human emotion come through with his second time in the director's chair?

Shot entirely on gorgeously composed 35mm film, Eternal Beauty follows Jane (Sally Hawkins), a woman struggling to get by as she lives with schizophrenia in a small apartment, but still very much leans on her family.

With an opinionated mother (Penelope Wilton), submissive father (Robert Pugh), caring sister Alice (Alice Lowe), and mischievous younger sister Nicola (Billie Piper), the fraught family dynamics reach far back into Jane's youth and only add to the dysfunctional interactions that are brought on by Jane's condition.

Jane's life changes, however, when she meets a charming but eccentric musician named Mike (David Thewlis), forging an intense connection with him that leaves her family concerned and causes those old grudges to return to the surface.

Sally Hawkins stars as the troubled Jane in Eternal Beauty
(Image: Bulldog Films)

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Crafted with a magnetic and kaleidoscopic performance from one of Britain's greatest actresses in Hawkins, Eternal Beauty's Jane is complex creation from Roberts who delivers poignant heft to tragic scenes but also disarming hilarity – of which we know Hawkins is so skilled at from her masterful work in Mike Leigh's Happy Go Lucky.

Rising Welsh star Morfydd Clark (Saint Maud, His Dark Materials)also makes a memorable appearance as a younger Jane in flashback, whose past tragedies regularly bleed into the modern Jane's disorienting present.

Morfydd Clark (right) stars as the younger Jane in flashbacks
(Image: Bulldog Films)

Jane strikes up a romance with the eccentric Mike (David Thewlis)
(Image: Bulldog Films)

Of the other supporting players, special praise must be singled out to the uncomfortably loving work from Thewlis, a heartbreakingly grave turn from Wilton, and particularly roguish appearance from Piper who continues to choose exciting projects (catch her now in the subversive I Hate Suzie on Sky).

Alongside this skilled ensemble, Craig Roberts treads a final line between darkly comic humour and moving pathos, knowing when to row back the quirky style and fluid narrative structure that mirrors Jane's mindset to just anchor his film in Hawkins' performance.

Billie Piper plays Jane's spoilt younger sister Nicola
(Image: Bulldog Films)

Alice Lowe plays the sensible sister of Jane, Alice
(Image: Bulldog Films)

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The piece following on from his last work Just Jim is also beautifully framed by hazy and colourful work from cinematographer Kit Fraser, utilising the grain and still photo-like quality of the 35mm film being used.

Bringing forth an understated reality in shots of his native Wales, Roberts utilises environments considerably well for a such a young feature director.

However, it is his ability to elicit such terrific work from some veteran performers that show that his deft understanding of human emotion – with entirely natural use of comedy – is just as good as it is within his own acting work in Submarine and Red Oaks.

Director Craig Roberts allows Sally Hawkins to work her magic
(Image: Bulldog Films)

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Hopefully, Roberts' future in directing will continue to show as much promise as his second feature here.

Verdict

Eternal Beauty is a quirky and moving character study of a woman struggling with mental illness with a captivating lead performance from Sally Hawkins.

Eternal Beauty is released in cinemas on October 2, 2020.

What is your favourite Sally Hawkins performance? Let us know in the comments below.

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