Mothering Sunday Plot Synopsis
Set in 1924, just a few years after World War 1 has ended, Mothering Sunday tells the tale of Jane Fairchild, a young housemaid who works at an English country house. She works for Mr and Mrs Niven, a reserved and quiet couple, who are both grieving after losing their children in the war.
It is a tradition that every Mothering Sunday, the servants should be allowed to have the day off to visit their mothers. Sadly, Jane was orphaned as a child, so she doesn’t have a mother to spend time with. But Mr Niven allows her the time off anyway, to spend in any way she pleases.
Little does he know, however, that she intends to spend the day with Paul, the last surviving son of the well-respected Sheringham family. Due to Jane’s lowly position, such a relationship is forbidden. The Nivens would be appalled if they knew, as would Paul’s parents and his fiancee, Emma.
Still, Jane is in love with Paul and as he is the key to her future happiness, she secretly meets with him anyway.
Unfortunately, Jane’s already tragic life is destined to get worse so a happy ending isn’t necessarily on the cards for the young housemaid.
Does anybody learn of their secret affair?
Paul’s family are picnicking with the Nivens so he and Jane are able to have the Sheringham house to themselves. As it’s Mothering Sunday, the other servants aren’t around either, so the young lovers have the privacy they need to carry out their passionate affair.
As they cavort naked around Paul’s bedroom, his fiancee is waiting for him at the picnic. When he doesn’t turn up for tea and cake, they assume he must be running late for some reason. They don’t know that the reason for his absence is Jane.
Thankfully, nobody goes looking for him so Jane and Paul are free to enjoy their time together. Their bedroom antics end when Paul decides he should attend the picnic.
Does Jane see Paul again?
Sadly, no. After returning home, Mr Niven arrives to let Jane know some very difficult news. Paul has died in a car accident. Jane is understandably shocked but as nobody knows that she intimately knew Paul, she isn’t able to express grief in front of her master.
Mr Niven then asks Jane to travel with him to the Sheringham house. He needs to inform the servants about what has happened and wants Jane with him for support when relaying the sad news.
How did the car accident happen?
It’s not entirely clear but it’s possible that it wasn’t an accident at all. When at the Sheringham house, Mr Niven asks the servant if Paul had left a note. She says ‘no,’ which is a relief to Mr Niven, as his question suggested Paul had committed suicide.
While we don’t know if it was an accident or suicide, the latter seems likely. As Paul was engaged to a woman he didn’t love and as he was unable to live his life freely with Jane, it’s possible that he killed himself to escape an unhappy future.
What does Jane do after this tragic event?
The car accident is the catalyst for Jane to move out of the Niven household. This is presumably because Paul’s death gave her a reason to consider her own life and future.
She leaves her post as a housemaid and begins work at a bookshop. While there, her boss gives her a typewriter. She uses this to start writing, a hobby that later became her career.
Does Jane find love again?
When at the bookshop, Jane meets a young man called Donald. The two fall in love with one another and later get married.
Sadly, their marriage is short-lived. After having a fall, Donald is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. After spending a little more time together, he dies and Jane is left alone again.
Does Jane find happiness?
Jane went on to have a successful career as a novelist but we don’t know if she ever found true love again.
But did she have a happy life? We can’t say for sure but as the film ends, there is a flashback to Jane as a younger woman looking out at a field of horses.
She smiles as she watches them running around freely. This could be a metaphor for Jane’s own life. After years of living as a servant, constrained by society’s expectations of her, it might be that she found freedom too. So, in this sense, it could be said that Jane did find happiness.
We hope so, as it would be terrible to think that the woman who experienced multiple tragedies went on to have a miserable life, despite making a living from her writing.
Read More: Mothering Sunday Movie Review
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