‘Eternal Beauty’: Sally Hawkins Gives Another Outstanding Performance as a Woman Battling Schizophrenia

After falling in love with a sea creature in Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning film “The Shape of Water,” Sally Hawkins delivers another powerful performance. This time she shines in a very different kind of emotional drama, “Eternal Beauty,” writer-director Craig Roberts’ nuanced exploration of mental illness. Hawkins stars as Jane, a woman who has been grappling with paranoid schizophrenia for most of her adult life. 

Now middle-aged, when we meet Jane, she is still haunted by the memory of a wedding that didn’t happen. Young Jane is played by Morfydd Clark, a great actress, although her lack of physical resemblance to Hawkins is distracting. Once a local model, years of neglect and social isolation have taken its toll on Jane. Soon after her aborted nuptials, she is diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalized for the first time. As dark as all this sounds, “Eternal Beauty” is a comedy, and its protagonist does find ways to have fun. Early on, she visits her dysfunctional family for Christmas, and with her she brings expensive gifts for herself, insisting that they pay her back for them.

As for Jane’s family, they’re far from a sunny bunch. The most sympathetic one is her sister Alice (Alice Lowe), a mother who is married to an unhappy man, Tony (Paul Hilton), who Jane believes is convinced is a cheater. Her other sister, Nicola (Billie Piper), is incredibly lazy. She mimics Jane’s behavior in order to score disability benefits before she marries an older wealthy man at death’s door. But the pivotal figure in Jane’s life, the one who has damaged her the most, is her mother, Vivian (Penelope Wilton), a cold woman who is unsympathetic when it comes to her daughter’s illness. Her father, Dennis (Robert Pugh), is pretty much a non-entity.

However, as terrible as Jane’s family is, they can only be blamed for so much, as it is Jane who is responsible for managing her own medication and keeping up with her appointments. Roberts and Hawkins do a fine job of portraying how life for someone like Jane, at least when she is off her meds, is frantic and unfocused. They almost do too good of a job, as the viewer must have patience to follow the story, which feels disjointed at times. Her preteen nephew, Jack (played amusingly deadpan by talented newcomer Spencer Deere), ends up on the receiving end of some of her more unhinged actions. Watching Jane at her worst, the viewer cannot but feel the palpable frustration coming from her and those around her, so one can only imagine what those dealing with mental illness and their families go through on a daily basis.

One thing those who know only the bare minimum about schizophrenia know is that many afflicted have auditory hallucinations, or “hear voices.” This is the case for Jane, as she hears the voice of her alleged former-fiancé, the unseen Johnny (Robert Aramayo), through landline telephones. While on her meds, she seeks normalcy, and she sort of finds it with Mike (David Thewlis), a homeless musician. Things move pretty quickly with the pair, despite the fact that Jane doesn’t seem to enjoy the sex, which is probably a side effect of her medication. While the viewer knows it’s only a matter of time before things implode, Jane doesn’t, which makes it all the more heartbreaking when she heads into her next breakdown.

“Eternal Beauty” doesn’t have a devastating depressing ending, nor does it end on a remarkably uplifting note. Instead, Jane leaves us with some observations worth pondering. “There’s no such thing as happiness,” she tells her doctor. “Only moments of not being depressed.”

Eternal Beauty” releases Oct. 2 on VOD and in select theaters.