The Eternal Daughter  (12A) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Joanna Hogg, UK/Ireland/US, 2022, 96 mins

Cast:  Tilda Swinton, Carly Simon-Davies, Joseph Mydell

Review by Carol Allen

I know nothing about film maker Joanna Hogg’s relationship with her own mother, but bearing in mind her recent autobiographical films and  also the fact that one of the two main characters in this one is a film maker, I rather suspect her personal experience of the mother/daughter relationship comes into it.

The story concerns a middle aged woman and her elderly mother, both played by Tilda Swinton, who book in at a remote hotel.  The somewhat arsey receptionist (Carly Sophia-Davies) tells them there is a problem with their booking – which is odd, as there is never any sign of other guests.  Eventually they are booked into a double room, along with the mother’s dog.

It emerges that the daughter has brought her mother here for two reasons;  to celebrate the elder’s birthday, but also because the hotel was once a grand house, which Mother visited as a child.   The daughter, who is herself childless, is struggling to understand their relationship.  She is planning to make a film about her mother and is hoping that the visit will evoke some helpful memories.

Hogg has described the film as a ghost story, though it defies many of the conventions of that genre.  There is certainly plenty of very effective ghostly atmosphere however.  Fog swirling round  trees, strange noises, which wake the daughter from her dreams and an initially mysterious man, walking around the hotel at night, who turns out not to be a ghost but the sympathetic hotel caretaker (Joseph Mydell), who is mourning his wife.  The real ghosts are in the mind.

I have not been a great fan of Hogg’s work in the past, but this one is certainly the best so far. It looks really good, it holds the attention and best of all, it has two beautiful performances from Swinton, who is on screen most of the time. 

The illusion of the two women being in the same space is skilfully handled, the difference and conversely the similarities between the two are well drawn and the detail of the story intriguing and well handled.  The denouement, while perhaps predictable, is nevertheless effective and satisfying.