Written by Craig Roberts and produced by Adrian Bate, Eternal Beauty tells the story of Jane (Sally Hawkins), the middle sibling of three sisters who, after being dumped at the altar at a very young age, has a breakdown that sees her spiraling into a paranoid schizophrenic world, where love (both real and imagined) and family relationships collide with both touching and humorous consequences.
Jane lives alone and her social life is mostly reduced to her sisters and her parents. Her mother Vivian, played by Penelope Wilton, is a stiff and domineering character, very much intrusive and controlling. Roberts said about Penelope, “I’d seen an interview on This Morning, and the way she presented herself was amazing. I just knew she was absolutely perfect for the part. She scared me a little bit! When I first met her, she’d seen JUST JIM, and she said, “You tend to mumble quite a lot as an actor,” Roberts laughs, “Immediately, I was like, “She’s so perfect. She has to do this.”
Jane regularly receives odd, ominous phone calls (at least when she stops taking her medication) from a mystery man – perhaps the man who left her at the altar. The monotony of Jane’s life is broken when Mike (played by David Thewlis), an old acquaintance, reappears bringing a kind of romance to her life. The chemistry between these two acting stars is palpable and breaths into the movie like warm summer breeze.
Although Roberts wrote the script in just a month, Eternal Beauty took three years to complete. It was definitely worth it. The film is absolutely impeccable down to the infinitesimal detail. In Roberts’s own words, “I prepped everything, down to what colour costume people are wearing, and when it will change within a scene, and when it comes back – the whole Vertigo kind of change of colour. I pretty much exhausted all options.”
Immediately, I was like, “She’s so perfect. She has to do this.Craig Roberts.
I-M Intelligent Magazine had the chance to interview Award-winning Penelope Wilton ahead of the release of the film. The legendary British actress, best known for her role as Isobel Crawley in the multi-Award-winning ITV series, Downton Abbey, spoke to our Editor Julia Pasarón about this jewel of independent filmmaking.
The story is sweet and sour and an excellent way to bring mental illness onto the screen. However there is always an element of risk in these movies. What attracted you to it?
I can only go by the script and by what the story is and I felt it was a very honest portrayal of mental illness. I don’t come from a family who have suffered from mental illness but Craig [Roberts] does. It’s based very much on his family experience, but it is a film, he was making a story, not a documentary. I thought the characters were very well drawn. In fact I think my character is also suffering from mental illness, bipolar like her daughter, but somehow she has managed to control it by controlling her girls.
Is this why she appears to be so stiff and domineering?
I think so. I think she’s fighting her own depression all the time. Vivian, my character wants to be in control but underneath there’s another world, another life going on. When she is near death at the end, she realises and comes to accept Jane and her own struggles much more.
Do you think there is a bit of guilt on Vivian’s side about how Jane’s life ended up evolving after being abandoned at the altar?
Yes, but she is not equipped to deal with somebody else’s emotions. If you’re crippled emotionally yourself, you can’t deal with the emotions of others, in this case, her daughter. I think she feels guilty and her way of dealing with the guilt is to cut it off and to pretend nothing is happening.
Is this film about mental illness or is it about love and despair?
The way the movie is presented shows a lot of love and despair. These people have very sad lives but in their own way they love each other. They don’t have the tools or the language to deal with their problems except maybe for the middle daughter, but they’ve all been affected by depression.
Mental illness is now more relevant than ever with the socialising restrictions imposed by Covid-19. How can the entertainment industry in general help? Especially radio and TV?
I think TV, radio and films reflect what’s going on in our society and that’s partly what their job is. People will write about mental illness because it is current and relevant at the moment but, frankly, it is relevant at all times. Lockdown affected people in all sorts of ways, badly for some but also an enormous relief for others because it gave them the chance to hop off the treadmill and look at their lives in a completely different way. On the other hand, we must not forget that our business is about giving enjoyment to people.
Eternal Beauty took three years to mature and perfect. I felt it was impeccable, how much did Roberts get involved in how you played Vivian’s character?
We did have a long chat about his grandmother, who Vivian is based on and from there, I drew from my own experience as a mother and tried to use it to understand Vivian.
How was working with such other talented actors like Sally Hawkins, David Thewlis and Robert Pugh in a story that deals with such delicate matters?
There seems to be such a beautiful acting balance between all of you. They are all great actors. We all really liked the script very much and kind of played off each other. Alice Lowe, Billy Piper and Sally Hawkins are brilliant as are David Thewlis and Robert Pugh. I think we were all drawn to the film for the same reason; we all thought the script to be extremely good and very original and it seemed to come from a place of reality and truth. Also, Craig [Roberts] is a very impressive young director. He filmed it all on film not on digital film. He has studied film a lot so even if he hasn’t made that many films, he knows exactly what he wants. So it was a very harmonious experience, because we were all there for the same reason.
What have you taken with you from this film?
It was an extremely interesting experience. I’d never played a woman like that before but I think what I’d take with me was working with my fellow actors and with Craig, who I think is an enormous talent and hope will have a big future in film. I believe he has really interesting things to say.
ETERNAL BEAUTY is released in UK/Irish cinemas and on demand from 2nd October.