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Eternal Beauty : A Bold Representation of Mental Illness That Goes Beyond Dark Comedy

Friday 9 October 2020, by Benjamin Hollis

Craig Roberts’ « Eternal Beauty » is a bold representation of mental illness that breaks with cinematic tradition, adding a rare level of nuance and compassion to an often misrepresented topic. Sally Hawkins stars as Jane, an isolated woman struggling with depression, schizophrenia and an at times toxic environment - 80s English suburbia. A chance encounter and whirlwind relationship with fellow patient Mike (David Thewlis) appears to grant her a new lifeline but instead serves only to reignite her underlying trauma of previously being jilted at the altar. Those expecting a dark comedy will be surprised to find that « Eternal Beauty » delivers more weight than expected, making it a tough watch at times, but a rewarding one in the end.

A striking feature of the film is its division into different phases, each drawing the picture towards another genre, while adding depth to Jane’s character. It starts as a slightly unhinged comedy with Jane butting against a bizarre, drab mental health clinic and buying herself her own Christmas presents that she wants her cold, disconnected relatives to pay for. Billie Piper shines as the reliably comic but callous younger sister and a rather stuck up Penelope Wilton is convincing as the cruel, selfish mother.

But when Jane loses her medication, she spirals out of control. The voices grow louder and as her behaviour veers into psychotic paranoia, the film’s atmosphere darkens to produce some chilling, almost horror-worthy scenes. Only then does her romance with Mike begin, brightening the film and eventually leading to a final, more enlightened sequence of self-discovery.

This unusual, alternating structure succeeds as an insight into Jane’s complex state of mind as she wrestles with her traumas. But it inevitably makes for difficult viewing, particularly in the first half of the story. Here the cast, striking visuals and a surprisingly dramatic soundtrack play their part, holding our attention throughout. Comedy also provides a common thread, with some unexpectedly funny lines interrupting sombre stretches and injecting some much-needed comic relief. For instance there’s an almost laugh-out-loud moment when Jane prematurely pronounces her mother dead, only for her to clarify that she’s « just resting her eyes ».

To conclude, a heavy-going first half eventually gives way to a fulfilling story. Although Jane’s romance with Mike is billed as the narrative focus, it ends up feeling more like a bump in the road on her journey towards healing and empowerment. This, along with some other clever narrative flourishes, builds a far more sophisticated, authentic and memorable picture than you’d expect from a mere indie dark comedy.

Craig Roberts’ ETERNAL BEAUTY starring Sally Hawkins, David Thewlis, Billie Piper, Morfydd Clark, Penelope Wilton and Alice Lowe will be released in cinemas in Scotland at the DCA Dundee from 2 Oct & the GFT from 9 Oct, as well as on demand from 2 Oct.

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