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VOD Review: Eternal Beauty

October 1, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Jane (Sally Hawkins), the lead character in the indie dramedy Eternal Beauty, is a woman living in Wales who has paranoid schizophrenia.

At first, Jane just comes across as sort of quirky, including an amusing early scene where she brings herself pre-wrapped Christmas presents for her family members to gift to her, and hands them all receipts so they can pay for them. But she also hears voices, and thinks that there are people hiding behind the walls watching her through the paint.

These are just a few examples of how Eternal Beauty walks a tricky tonal tightrope between finding some humour in Jane’s unique way of navigating the world, without shying away from the seriousness of her mental illness, and the film is mostly successful at finding the right balance.

The film follows her over about a year, observing the complicated relationships that she has with her family, including her parents Vivian (Penelope Wilton) and Dennis (Robert Pugh), her two sisters Nicola (Billie Piper) and Alice (Alice Lowe), and her nephew Jack (Spencer Deere). Jane also has a romantic entanglement with Mike (David Thewlis, great as always), an eccentric and unstable musician whom she meets in the waiting room of her psychiatrist’s (Boyd Clack) office. Mike claims to know her, but Jane doesn’t quite remember.

Throughout it all, Jane intermittently starts and stops taking her anti-psychotic medication, which only exacerbates her paranoia and hallucinations. The plot of Eternal Beauty does feel a bit scattershot, and leaves some things unresolved, but this is clearly intentional considering the unreliability of Jane as a narrator. As the film goes on, and more of her past trauma is revealed through flashbacks showing what led to her first major breakdown, parts of her story start to shift, and our understanding does as well.

We are never quite sure what is real, because Jane isn’t sure, either. A man (voice of Robert Aramayo), supposedly a former lover who left her at the alter, keeps calling her on the telephone, but is he even real or just another one of the voices in her head? The film is intriguingly directed by Craig Roberts who, a decade ago, starred in Richard Ayoade’s coming of age film Submarine. Roberts, who also wrote the script for the film and based Jane on someone from his own life, does a solid job behind the camera, walking a fine line between quirky humour and a respectful, dramatic portrayal of schizophrenia.

The film is built around a compelling and at times unsettling performance by Hawkins, who finds a great deal of both awkward comedy and tragic pathos in her portrayal of Jane. Mental illness is obviously a tricky thing to portray properly, and I don’t know enough about schizophrenia to judge the accuracy of her performance. But from an acting perspective, I found Hawkins extremely engaging to watch, and by the end of the film she allows us to feel a great deal of empathy for her character.

As a low-key character study of a woman living with extreme mental illness, Eternal Beauty is a fairly engaging film that is kept afloat thanks to some interesting stylistic touches and strong performances from its cast. It’s the sort of small film that curious viewers are encouraged to check out.

Eternal Beauty is being released tomorrow, October 2nd, on a variety of VOD and digital platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by A71.

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