It’s been a decade since Welsh actor Craig Roberts’ breakthrough performance in Richard Ayoade’s critically acclaimed indie film Submarine. Sally Hawkins played the part of his mother back then, and now she takes up the leading role in comedy drama Eternal Beauty, his second feature as writer and director. The plot centres around Jane (Hawkins) who suffered a psychological breakdown years earlier after being jilted at the altar. Diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, we see how she interacts with her sisters Nicola (Billie Piper) and Alice (Alice Lowe), her mother Vivian (Penelope Witton) and her madcap love interest Mike (David Thewlis) who has mental health issues of his own.
Little time in wasted in introducing a dysfunctional family dynamic that exists in a run-down council estate, and an idiosyncratic tone is quickly established by an aesthetic style that flaunts neat compositions but in a distressed Wes Anderson-esque pastel colour palette. We’re exposed to Jane’s turbulent ups and downs, and though there can be unsettling viewing, her eccentric behaviour can also be hilarious in its hysteria. We soon find that despite her condition, she is able to find joy in life where others around her cannot, and the negative connotations usually associated with mental illness are turned on their head. Roberts cleverly toys with colour as a storytelling device, and this is used to illustrate Jane’s state of mind.
Sally Hawkins is perfectly cast as the protagonist, and it comes as no surprise that the script was penned with her in mind. She is expressive in her touching display of emotions and shows brilliant range to not only switch seamlessly between Jane’s moods but in making her feel accessible to the audience. While some of the supporting characters are a little one-note, scenes shared with Thewlis are particularly lovely to see play out, as two masters of the acting craft enjoy one another’s company.
Craig Roberts is proving to be an innovative filmmaker and turns frowns upside down through a lens of distorted reality with his sophomore effort Eternal Beauty, a refreshing portrayal of mental health issues. Bringing playful quirks to an area that appears to be close to his heart, his vivid imagination shines a positive light on subject matter that is usually shrouded in darkness.