Graham Swift’s acclaimed 2016 novella makes a sumptuous transition to the screen in Eve Husson’s adaptation, written by Lady Macbeth’s Alice Birch.
Jane Fairchild is an orphan who works as a maid for the Nivens (Olivia Colman and Colin Firth), a wealthy Home Counties couple whose lives and marriage were destroyed by the loss of their sons in the First World War. She is having a secret affair with Paul (Josh O’Connor), the charming son of the Nivens’ neighbours, although with his impending but undesired marriage approaching, it is unlikely to last. The narrative then moves forward to see Jane in a relationship with a philosopher (an excellent Sope Dirisu), just as her writing career is taking off, and in old age as she becomes the recipient of a major award.
Odessa Young plays Jane in her youth and middle age, while Glenda Jackson returns to the big screen for the first time in 30 years to play the older Jane. Together, they present a character working against the traditions of British life, with attitudes forged by her early experiences, in both love and servitude. Husson and Birch offer a refreshingly frank and different take on the British heritage drama, infusing it with eroticism and sensuality, a counterpoint to the melancholy that pervades Swift’s moving tale.