Directed by: Craig Roberts
Written by: Craig Roberts
Starring: Sally Hawkins, David Thewlis, Billie Piper and Alice Lowe
Eternal Beauty is the second feature film from Craig Roberts. Roberts is perhaps most recognisable to independent film fans for his leading role in Richard Ayoade’s now seminal Submarine (2010). Roberts’ first film as a director, Just Jim (2015), is thoroughly indebted to Submarine. Roberts directed himself as the titular character alongside Emile Hirsch. Just Jim is a coming-of-age film, set in Wales, about a 17-year-old social outcast who is given a lesson in how to be cool by his new James Dean-esque American neighbour. The narrative isn’t as straight-forward as it sounds, with Robert’s and his DP Richard Stoddard viewing this mundane suburban world through an off-kilter, dreamlike lens.
While Eternal Beauty is a further departure from Ayoade’s classic, it still, at times, feels like it’s pinching at its coat-tails. Sally Hawkins (who played Roberts’ mother in Submarine) plays a paranoid-schizophrenic, Jane, whose condition is exacerbated by her dysfunctional family. She gets on with her sister Alice (Lowe), but the fractures in her family caused by her mother’s passive-aggression and her other sister’s abrasiveness are seemingly irreparable. Jane’s mental illness stems from the trauma of being stood up at the altar by the love of her life.
Her medication allows her to lead an independent yet dull existence. Like in his first feature Roberts wallows in the benign mundanity of day-to-day existence, depression seems to be a thematic interest of his. The advice given by Jane’s doctor ‘don’t fight depression, make friends with it’ is the film’s opening line. The first act relies on unmistakably British, black humour to carry us to the turning point- where Jane decides enough is enough and bins her medication. She meets and becomes involved with Mike (Thewlis), a musician with some serious mental health problems of his own. There is a genuine spark between the two which is determined to be extinguished by her aforementioned poisonous family dynamic.
Eternal Beauty is an unexceptional dramedy which is elevated by it’s poignant and sensitive portrayal of schizophrenia, an extremely complex mental illness, which has been notoriously hard to depict in film without it seeming stigmatic. This is thanks in no small part to Sally Hawkins multi-faceted performance. She remains one of the finest British female actors and gives herself over to this role both physically and mentally. She finds a focal point of humanity in Jane’s brightest and darkest moments. The film is worthwhile for her performance alone.