One word to describe Sally Hawkins’ talent is chameleonic. Even if she never undergoes a drastic physical transformation to become the characters she plays, she still melts into her roles in a way that makes it hard to believe they’re pulled off by the same performer. Her role as the paranoid schizophrenic Jane in Eternal Beauty proves to be another example of her peculiar acting prowess.
Worlds away from the neurotic Ginger in Blue Jasmine and the infectiously optimistic Poppy in Happy-Go-Lucky, Jane is a woman who’s conscious yet insentient. Someone who’s aware of her condition and that it impairs her worldview while still succumbing to her delusions. After being stood up at the altar twenty years ago, Jane suffered a breakdown that caused her schizophrenia to manifest and Eternal Beauty follows her attempt at living a societal lifestyle along with her striving to repair her relationship with her sisters and to find love with Mike (David Thewlis), an eccentric musician.
Thanks to the sensitive hand of writer/director Craig Roberts, Jane’s illness isn’t vilified nor does it fall into the easy trap of being portrayed as a burden. While everyone who has mental health struggles has a different experience, dealing with it on a daily basis can feel like a burden because of the struggle to relate to other people and get through the next moment. By writing Jane as someone who still attempts to bond with other people, it’s as if Roberts is saying that it might not always be a successful venture, but making the attempt is still a crucial step to overcoming one’s condition.
At the same time, Roberts doesn’t lose sight of the gravity of Jane’s situation as he offers a glimpse in her head by showcasing moments where she talks with an ominous male voice on the phone that only she can hear. It’s unclear if this man is the one who broke Jean’s heart all those years ago. But this hallucinatory voice still is someone who Jane sadly has more of a connection to than those who’re supposed to be attentive to her.
That is until Mike enters her life. Accompanied by the song “I Will Follow You” by Rick Nelson, Jane gets to have a montage of her and Mike engaging in a blissful romance. Even if their romance becomes possibly short-lived, since someone like Jane can have trouble attaining such a relationship, at least for a while, Jane still gets to enjoy some happiness. In addition, the lucid, dizzying cinematography in that sequence from DP Kit Fraser proves to be quite inviting.
It’s a sequence that serves as a nice break from the ongoing melodrama involving Jane and her family. Besides dealing with her schizophrenia, Jane’s family ties are another crucial element to the storyline. Additionally, the actors who play her family members do a fine job at creating a genuinely tempestuous unit with Billie Piper standing out as Jane’s feisty, ne’er-do-well sister Nicola along with Penelope Wilton as Vivian, Jane’s caring yet disquieted mother.
In the end, though, it’s mainly the Sally Hawkins show and she encapsulates the bittersweet nature that Eternal Beauty possesses. Much like Craig Roberts, Hawkins handles the material with an empathetic and unsentimental eye as she gives us a mental health heroine who isn’t afraid to keep moving forward even as she speaks low and keeps her head down. Hopefully, her performance, and this film, strike a chord with anyone who may feel alone as they deal with their condition.
Eternal Beauty will be released on VOD by Samuel Goldwyn Films on October 2.