• Industry

Eva Husson on “Mothering Sunday” – “It opened up a frequency in me”

French actor-writer-director Eva Husson and Mothering Sunday star, Australia’s Odessa Young (A Million Little Pieces, Assassin Nation, Shirley), were on hand via Zoom to conduct a Q & A about this evocative and inspiring film presented by Sony Picture Classics and Women in Film (WIF).

Based on the heartbreaking novella by Graham Swift, the film was adapted to the screen by Alice Birch (Golden Globe Nominee Normal People). It’s about Jane Fairchild, a maid living in post-WWI England who has a clandestine relationship with a law student, Paul Sheringham, played by Golden Globe Winner Josh O’Connor. A tale of love and loss, the affair blossoms on the heels of his commitment to marry another woman.

The film also boasts an esteemed cast, such as Golden Globe Winners Olivia Colman and Colin Firth. They play grief-stricken parents who lost their sons in the trenches. Golden Globe Winner Glenda Jackson takes the role of an older Jane.

The time period jumps from the 20s, 40s, and, finally, the 80s – when Jane remembers her past and, most importantly, the day that changed her life.  

“It was the novel that got to me first,” explains Husson. “My agent sent it to me. I was doing a TV job where there was a lot of action. Then, suddenly, I had this extremely delicate, sophisticated story about emotions and human beings. I needed that.” She shrugs. “It was just as simple as that. I had gone through some personal trauma in my life, and it just resonated a lot. It opened up a frequency in me.”

“This profession is really hard for many, many reasons. Most of the journey is not going to be easy. So, if you feel connected to a project, it’s much easier to eat [expletive]. Very simply. I’m being very French right now,” she chuckles.

Husson began her career as an actor. She appeared in numerous French productions. She now prefers writing and directing. Her work behind the camera includes Bang Gang: A Modern Love Story, and Girls of the Sun, a story about female freedom fighters, for which she was nominated for a Palme d’Or, in 2018.

For Husson, Mothering Sunday was an emotionally grueling experience not to be taken by the faint-hearted. “I was just re-reading my diary yesterday, for various reasons. I just realized that there were days when I would just come home and cry at the end of the day because there was so much about loss and emotions. It’s not easy to go through this, especially during a pandemic.”

Odessa Young weighs in. “I hadn’t heard of the novel before the screenplay came my way. I was pretty blown away by it. I have a very similar story to Eva. When I first read it, I’d also had an experience of grief and loss, a couple of months before we started shooting. I was still pretty raw when I read it. It answered a lot of questions for me. It answered a lot of desires.”


Husson went on an exhaustive search to find the right candidate to play Jane. “I had seen many young ladies where I was like, ‘Oh, there’s this one good thing, but I’m not sure they can carry the film.’ When I saw Odessa act, I just knew. There was just something that felt so right,” she says. “The first time I saw her, she was in Shirley facing down [Golden Globe Winner] Elisabeth Moss. Literally, before I saw the film I was like ‘Oh, she’s going to get eaten alive. It’s going to be painful to watch.’ To see her at the same level [as Elisabeth], it blew my mind.”

Much of Mothering Sunday relies on the authenticity between Young and O’Connor’s relationship. Young offers, “I remember we messaged just each other on social media when we found out that each other was cast. That was our only interaction before I got to London. Then, we started rehearsing,” she recalls. “I think that this is a little bit of Eva’s genius, as well. Her gut knew exactly who he was and who we’d be together,” she says. “I think that he’s a phenomenal actor. He is good at committing to what is required of him. It made it easy to get to what was required of me. What was required of us was chemistry, and we did it.” She shrugs. “It’s as simple as that. If two people have a common goal, that does your work for you. That’s all chemistry is, anyway. I hope it worked out.” According to rave reviews, it ‘worked out’ in spades.

For Husson, her experience making the movie wasn’t a walk in the park. She admits, “Well, I’ve had more fun on other sets.” The film was shot under COVID restrictions. “I think everybody was very eager to do their best. I think everybody was quite stressed out by the working conditions. We didn’t have much relief. We could not socialize. We did not see each other’s faces, apart from me and the actors. At some point, I was, like, ‘I cannot communicate what I need to with everyone wearing a mask.’ So, the actors and I were not wearing masks.”

She speaks candidly of other obstacles, namely, filming in South East England and being at the mercy of its unpredictable weather. “It was also something, to have underestimated the English weather. You know, I made a war film in Georgia [Girls of the Sun], and, honestly, I have to say it was less tough than trying to shoot a sunny film in England.”