By Adam Ray Palmer
Craig Roberts, actor-turned-writer-turned director, arrives at the 2020 Glasgow Film Festival with his second feature-film from behind the camera, Eternal Beauty.
In an honest and refreshing approach, Eternal Beauty tackles a few tough social subjects with an array of talent on the bill including Sally Hawkins, David Thewlis, Alice Lowe and Billie Piper.
Eternal Beauty follows wallflower-like figure Jane (Sally Hawkins) who has been battling mental health issues since the day she was left at the alter by her fiancé. Shortly after, Jane falls into a state of despair and is diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. Having spent several spells in mental hospitals where shock therapy was used, Jane lives semi-independently on state benefits by herself in a small but neat, pastel-coloured apartment.
As her dysfunctional family continually distance themselves in terms of support, Jane becomes more and more alone. She decides to stop taking her medication and her life become more hectic, but she also encounters new sources of love and life with surprising results. In a waiting room one day, she meets an alike extrovert, Mike (David Thewlis), who is an aspiring musician who likewise has serious mental issues that require medication. The duo find solace with each other, having fun like teenagers. They are playful, innocent and partake in amusingly unsatisfying sex. Things are never so simple for Jane though, as she is just a final breakdown away from a return to the hospital.
From the outset, Roberts’s intention is clear. The way he frames mental illness around the narrative is a careful and considered decision, bringing a refreshing light to the schizophrenia illness. He chooses to never shy away from showing the negatives, but also revels in the innocent positives too. He very much conveys a superpower feel to it, like it could happen to anyone, but it’s also nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a tricky feat to pull off, but Eternal Beauty does that.
To enhance the mental health notion to the audience, to better understand, Roberts uses an assortment of camera trickery, using titled camera angles and mix of editing tricks to correlative alongside Jane’s alternative view of the world. How Roberts delivers this is very much in the vein of Wes Anderson. There’s many quirky, humorous scenes where bright colours and sudden editing pave the way for great pay offs here and there.
On the whole, Eternal Beauty is quietly a pleasant surprise. I don’t mean that insultingly, I just didn’t think it would stay with my thoughts as long as it did. The two major wins are firstly Roberts’s filmmaking – striking head on a dark ‘taboo’ with moments of comedic relief, making the movie rarely feel heavy handed. And secondly, the irreplaceable Sally Hawkins.
Hawkins’s Jane is such a fragile, down-trodden soul who wears clothes at least two sizes to big for her. She is constantly traumatised by her dysfunctional family due to their ignorance. She plays the role so sweetly and affectionately that you simply cannot not adore her. You will for her to succeed in whatever way she would find strength, and as such, you feel every blow she is dealt like it is your own. Hawkins’s is a tour-de-force.
There’s two lines that stuck with me from the movie and made me think deeply about life as I know it. The first one being “what if there is no happiness, only moments of not feeling depressed” when Jane mutters it to her therapist, and to be honest, we have all at times felt like that. But the most important piece of dialogue that makes you end the film with a smile is a quip by Jane back to a photographer when he says he is “normal” in reply to her having schizophrenia. She immediately, without a thought, retorts “boring”. What a final word.
Cineroom’s rating: 4 stars
Eternal Beauty screened at the 2020 Glasgow Film Festival as part of the ‘Local Heroes’ strand.