Joanna Hogg follows her two-part semi-autobiographical opus The Souvenir with her most enthralling piece to date, a gorgeously composed quasi-ghost story that is ticklishly connected to its precursors.
Tilda Swinton gives a pair of impeccably differentiated performances as filmmaker Julie Hart — perhaps a mature version of the character played by Swinton’s own daughter, Honor Swinton-Byrne, in the Souvenir films – and Julie’s mother, the patrician-yet-touchingly human Rosalind. Mother and daughter have arrived at a mysterious, possibly haunted hotel, accompanied by Rosalind’s dog Louis (who merits high billing in the cast-list), theoretically to celebrate Rosalind’s birthday. Julie’s motivations, however, are more complex: she wants to begin writing a film about her relationship with her mother, while also, on a more submerged level, to come to know this ineffably elusive figure. She is obstructed in the latter not only by Rosalind’s self-containment, which is both charming and confounding, but also by intimations of the supernatural that creep in at the periphery of the action – not to mention an uncooperative receptionist, marvellously played by Carly-Sophia Davies.
To reveal more would be unfair, not because anything that happens is particularly unexpected (it isn’t), but because Hogg and Swinton unfurl it with such exquisite poise. From the just-a-little-heightened cinematography – shot on film by Hogg’s regular collaborator Ed Rutherford – to the tantalising Bartók music heard throughout, The Eternal Daughter is a pitch-perfect evocation of a very specific type of British ghost story (perhaps more Margaret Oliphant than M. R. James, for those concerned with such specifics).
It is also, of course, much more besides – chiefly a deeply touching treatise on the relationship between parent and child, one that, contrary to conventional wisdom, seems to grow ever more complicated with age. The film is a quiet kind of masterpiece, haunting in all the best ways.
Words: David Turpin
The Eternal Daughter
Director: Joanna Hogg
Talent: Tilda Swinton, Carly-Sophia Davies
Release Date: November 24