In the opening to British filmmaker Joanna Hogg’s latest film ‘The Eternal Daughter’, a black cab rolls through the dead of night to a country house hotel. The passengers, are middle-aged daughter Julie and her elderly mother Rosalind, both played by Hogg’s long- time friend and collaborator, the superlunary Tilda Swinton, elegant and multi-faceted as ever. And her springer spaniel Louie, of the prestigious Palm Dog winning clan. Happy families, or not … as the case may be.
As in Hogg’s Souvenir films, the protagonist in ‘The Eternal Daughter’ is a filmmaker named Julie. The hotel was once an estate where her mother Rosalind spent time as a child, so Julie has brought her back as a special birthday treat. She also hopes to find time to focus on her work, but instead finds herself possessed and unsettled in this dizzying ghost hotel. Often unable to sleep or concentrate, she paces down long absinth-green corridors, hunts the kitchen for a kettle and attempts to make calls to her partner in the connectionless gardens. In contrast to her frantic daughter, Rosalind is calm and unperturbed, even when she reveals to Julie that her memories of the estate are not all merry. She enjoys being tucked up with Louie in bed or sitting by the fire in the drawing room, finding her daughter to be altogether dear but fussy and hysterical.
As soon as the Swinton double act set foot in the hotel, Hogg establishes a jarring and peculiar space primed perfectly for this quietly haunting mother-daughter ghost story. As proved in films like Hitchcock’s ‘Rebecca’ or James Ivory’s ‘Howard’s End’ and Joe Wright’s ‘Atonement’, then more recently Eva Husson’s ‘Mothering Sunday’ or Tom Stourton’s ‘All My Friends Hate Me’, British cinema has proved that the English country house is a superbly claustrophobic cinematic setting for drama to unravel in. Hogg follows suit with ‘The Eternal Daughter’, her latest work reinstating that beyond grandeur and elegance, country houses are primed perfectly for unveiling secrets, trauma and tragedy, as well as scrutinizing class.
The dynamic between this upper middle class mother-daughter pair is complex, challenging and unresolved. This is palpably served up to us on a silver spoon over a climatic meal in the empty, morbid hotel restaurant. Only the hotel staff can break the ice – Carly Sophia-Davis plays a sassy manageress with a short temper, while Joseph Mydell is a soothing voice of reason and sounding board for Swinton.
By marrying pseudo horror and family drama, Hogg has created a compelling ghost story, heralding an exciting turning point in her body of work. Her first feature, ‘Unrelated’ (2007) is a neat, subtle tale of lust and loyalty between a group of friends under the Tuscan sun, while ‘Archipelago’ (2010) is a dysfunctional family drama set on the Scilly Isles. It was this beautiful film that caught the attention of Martin Scorsese, who would then go on to executive produce Hogg’s lovestruck masterpiece ‘The Souvenir’ (2019), a quietly exuberant symphony, rather like its namesake, Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s Rococo painting in the Wallace Collection.
‘The Souvenir’ is an autobiographical film that explores the intoxication of first love, based on a relationship Hogg had in her twenties. Set in the 1980s, it depicts a relationship between young film student Julie (played by Honor Swinton-Byrne) and Anthony (Tom Burke), a transfixing yet troubled man. ‘The Souvenir Part II’ (2021) looks at how Julie navigates the fall-out of that relationship, and finds her feet again in the wake of tragedy. In an interview with The Observer in 2019, Hogg explained that the films grew out her vision for “a film in two parts: a relationship and a reaction to its ending.” The two films encapsulate the electrifying, anxiety-evoking addiction and magnetism of first-love. This is then followed by the spell wearing off and the presentation of how humans can be prone to abandon their values in pursuit of romance, lust and desire, only to find them again when relationships end and we find ourselves reborn, looking at the world with a different set of eyes.
Falling gracefully out her Souvenir universe, ‘The Eternal Daughter’ is a nod to the beauty and bloodshed in mother-daughter relationships. In using horror elements and the country house setting as a pressure cooker, Joanna Hogg emerges valiantly from the manor with another string to her bow, while we wait with bated breath for the next act.