Craig Roberts returns to the director's chair with the powerful story of a woman with paranoid schizophrenia. Sally Hawkins gives a superb performance in the lead role
Schizophrenia has rarely been portrayed well on film, and the biggest success of Craig Roberts' latest drama is that it neither demonises nor simplifies its central character’s illness. Eternal Beauty follows Jane (Sally Hawkins), a woman living functionally, if a bit foggily, on state benefits and medication following several hospital stays. Her determination to live with kindness and independence stands in stark contrast to a mean-spirited family – emphasised in flashbacks to her abortive wedding and a heartbreaking beauty pageant. Hawkins captures Jane’s unfailing compassion and perceptiveness and she navigates a world that keeps trying to hem her in.
In the supporting cast, Alice Lowe shines as Jane’s only sympathetic family member, her sister Alice. As the other sister Nicola, Billie Piper is delightfully nasty but does not get much of a chance to expand on this one note. There is a sense that her mental health may be suffering as well, but aside from Jane’s unfailing understanding towards her it is not adequately explored. The film’s strongest portions follow Jane’s relationship with aspiring musician Mike (David Thewlis). Their immediate connection – the first time we see Jane live solely for herself – is overwhelmingly tender and entirely unromanticised.
The south Wales scenery and kitschy décor, captured on gauzy film by Kit Fraser’s cinematography, creates a feeling of being lost in time while emphasising the warmth of Jane’s perspective. When Jane pauses her medication halfway through the film, this dreamlike atmosphere becomes even more pronounced and effective. Eternal Beauty captures cycles of dysfunction with well-judged doses of comedy and a glimmer of hope, making it a memorable tale of exploration.
Eternal Beauty screens at Glasgow Film Festival, Wed 4 Mar, 8.45pm & Thu 5 Mar, 4pm, Glasgow Film Theatre; the screening on 4 Mar will be followed by a Q&A with director Craig Roberts