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  • Writer's pictureMark Howitt

The Eternal Daughter

A few weeks ago I reflected on my all time favourite seven films, which I then extended to eight (Amy Heckerling's Clueless) before briefly praising the 40th anniversary re-release of Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense. So that’s a nice round nine.

At number 5 in the original list of seven was all French films from 1895 to 2023. One of the appeals of le cinéma français is that very often, in terms of plot, nothing happens. Life can be stressful enough, without adding more anxieties by watching a film. Examples of the rien ne se passe genre are Bertrand Tavernier's Dimanche à la Campagne (1984), Eric Rohmer's Tales of the Four Seasons (1990 - 1998), more recently Fête de Famille (2019) starring Catherine Deneuve, and that one about the bloke and the canoe. Time spent watching these films is never time wasted and because nothing much happens, they stand up to repeat viewings in the same way that our own daily lives stand up to repetition.

It would be unfair to categorise Joanna Hogg’s latest release, The Eternal Daughter - which she has written and directed - as being part of the rien ne se passe genre although she does have form in her 2010 film Archipelago. That was described by comedian Stewart Lee as “an art film about middle-class people on a disappointing holiday”. He’s not wrong, but the film set on Isles of Scilly is no less enjoyable for that. Had it been made in French not English, it could be mistaken for a long lost Eric Rohmer.

However, although not very much happens in The Eternal Daughter, there is more than enough to keep the viewer puzzling what it’s all about until the very end. The film concerns another disappointing holiday, this one taking place in the rooms and grounds of a remote Welsh hotel, seemingly occupied by only two guests, Julie and her mother Ros.

Both roles are played by Hogg’s long-time friend Tilda Swinton, an arrangement which has the potential for gimmickry but never feels that way, and despite the technical issues of filming, does not appear fabricated. At times the dialogue between the two - much of it improvised - is excruciating, straining the relationship of grown-up daughter and mother. I can’t think of any other actor who could pull this off.

The Eternal Daughter is being promoted as an out-&-out ghost story, the BBFC have given the film a 12A certificate for “moderate horror”. I saw it not knowing anything about it other than it was directed by Joanna Hogg and Tilda Swinton was in it. I think anyone wanting some “moderate horror” is going to be disappointed. But if you want to see one of Britain’s best directors at the top of her game - and you can never go wrong with Tilda Swinton - then I can’t recommend this enough.

Seen at the Glasgow Film Theatre. On general release Friday 24th November.

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