The Eternal Daughter

UK 2022, 96 mins
Director: Joanna Hogg

Joanna Hogg is interested in how we are shaped by the rooms we occupy. The starkest example is Exhibition (2014), set in the unique home that architect James Melvin designed with so many nooks and crannies that a strained couple are able to live together apart. Her most recent films – The Souvenir and The Souvenir Part II – reveal this preoccupation through the fastidious recreation of the Kensington flat where Hogg spent her early adulthood, going so far as to bring in old furniture to decorate the bedroom of her fictional alter ego, Julie. The ethos seems to be: if she builds it, the film will come.

The setting this time around is a creepy hotel in the Welsh countryside. The opening shows a path flanked by trees, shrouded in a snowy pea-souper, until the yellow beams of a black cab illuminate the scene. In the passenger seats are not one but two Tilda Swintons. One has orange hair and is middle-aged; the other has lighter hair and is elderly. They are driven to a grand Gothic hotel, all stone lions and geometric hedges, where the wind whistles and branches rattle at the windows. Is Joanna Hogg making a ghost story?

Long before showing her hand, she introduces us to the building and its occupants using customary long and stilted takes. At the front desk is a young Welsh lady (Carly-Sophia Davies) who is magnificently uninterested in the art of customer service; a passive-aggressive conversation between her and Tilda the younger runs uncomfortably long. The younger Tilda is intent on acquiring a particular room on the first floor for her and her mother. Clues regarding the significance of this hotel are dropped sparingly into the narrative, ratcheting up a sense of mystery; Hogg withholds basic information about her characters, forcing us to focus on the hotel itself as the younger Tilda roams its corridors at night, fascinated and very alone, with each sound magnified. The Mary Celeste vibes are palpable – until Tilda discovers a kindly confidant in the form of the bereaved nightwatchman (Joseph Mydell).

Sharp observational riffs on the ridiculous codes of polite society are paired with genre flourishes. A round make-up mirror contains the receptionist’s face as she does her make-up – then it tilts to the side and we see Tilda watching from the top of the stairs. It’s a blackly comic reveal that draws attention to the tension between the two women through horror movie grammar.

It is casually revealed that middle-aged Tilda is Julie, while elderly Tilda is Ros, marking an explicit link to the Souvenir films, where the mother and daughter have the same names. Ros lived a chunk of her life in this building and Julie is eager to record the memories sparked by returning together. Tilda acting opposite Tilda is bewitching, to the point that this potentially jarring casting stops feeling like a gimmick almost immediately. Her two characters end up as distinct people, and the fact that they have the same face proves a clever way to convey their closeness.

Perhaps the most affecting scene takes place when a ravenous Julie, enthusiastically browsing the hotel’s limited menu, is stopped in her tracks by Ros saying she won’t eat. “I’m not hungry if you don’t have hunger,” Julie tells her mother, echoing the scene in The Souvenir Part II where Julie asks how her mum felt on taking a tragic phone call and Ros responds, “I felt through you.” Hogg closes a loop here, presenting the mother-daughter relationship as one of identity-effacing empathy. Another film in competition at the Venice Film Festival, Alice Diop’s Saint Omer, ends with a speech about how mother-daughter cells merge in the womb. Diop and Hogg form a consensus across their two films: this bond involves transference.

There are wheels within wheels in The Eternal Daughter, which winds down with Julie on her laptop typing up a description of the opening scene we witnessed 90 minutes earlier. As in the Souvenir films, Hogg has knitted into her structure questions about what making art about intimate relationships does to the way we embody them. This is a film about a mother and a daughter and memory and space; it is Hogg using the voluptuous form of a ghost story to, once again, explore the issues that afflict her restless artistic soul; it is Hogg having fun with expanding a distinct strain of playful humour, making a nod to one of the most famous mysteries in the cinema canon as she names a room after a dying man’s last word, ‘Rosebud’.
Sophie Monks Kaufman, Sight and Sound, 14 September 2022

Written during the first Covid lockdown in 2020 and shot at an eerily empty Soughton Hall in Wales during the second lockdown, Joanna Hogg’s sixth feature film, The Eternal Daughter, is an impressive haunted house tale, in which memories and ghosts seep into each other in uncanny and ultimately very moving ways.

The film sits comfortably within the genre – there are spectral sounds at night and wispy fogs shrouding the garden – but it is also recognisably a Joanna Hogg film: expect some of the usual exquisitely awkward meals, painful one-sided phone calls, and unstated family tensions and trauma. It revisits the characters of Julie the filmmaker and her mother Rosalind from the two parts of The Souvenir (2019/2021) but works as a standalone film.

‘For the first spark of an idea, I tend to go to literature,’ says Joanna Hogg. ‘It’s not about watching something and thinking, “I want to make something like this.” It’s more about the idea. It might not even be a whole story – just a sentence from a book can take hold… and become something else as I work on a scenario. So far, with the six films I’ve made, the jumping-off point has often been a novel or a short story.

In The Eternal Daughter, Julie is seen reading Rudyard Kipling’s ‘They’. This story was a touchstone for the film, and I was lucky to have it recommended to me by Martin Scorsese, who has worked as executive producer on my last three films. He brilliantly picked it out because he had an intuitive sense of where I wanted to go with The Eternal Daughter. I’ve never been moved to tears by a ghost story before. It’s especially moving when you realise Kipling wrote it soon after he had lost his young daughter Josephine [to pneumonia]. The story is filled with this pervasive sadness. I was moved but also frightened by it. It helped structure the film, but it’s strange how influences find their way into your head and then into the work: it was the mood of the house in it, and the sense that you’re not sure where the story is going, what the status of reality is in it, but you’re haunted by it.

While I was writing, I read many ghost stories: M.R. James’s ‘A Warning to the Curious’, Algernon Blackwood’s ‘The Man Whom the Trees Loved’, Walter de la Mare’s ‘Seaton’s Aunt’, Edith Wharton’s ‘All Souls’. The list goes on. I was steering clear of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw and the Jack Clayton adaptation, The Innocents [1961], because I remembered it so strongly from seeing it as a child – and many times since. However, Jovan Ajder, the wonderful sound designer of my films, watched and carefully listened to The Innocents and something of it is surely in our film.
Joanna Hogg interviewed by Roger Luckhurst, Sight and Sound, December 2023

A film by: Joanna Hogg
©: Eternal Daughter Productions Limited, British Broadcasting Corporation
An Element Pictures production
In association with: JWH Films
Presented by: A24, BBC Film
Executive Producers: Rose Garnett, Martin Scorsese
Produced by: Emma Norton, Andrew Lowe, Joanna Hogg
Co-producer: Eimhear McMahon
Location Managers: Alex Tridimas, Faye Newton
Post-production Supervisor: Deborah Harding
1st Assistant Director: Paolo Guglielmotti
Script Supervisor: Sara J. Doughty
Casting Director: Olivia Scott-Webb
A film by: Joanna Hogg
Director of Photography: Ed Rutherford
Visual Effects: Ghost VFX
Special Effects Supervisor: Scott MacIntyre
Editor: Helle Le Fevre
Production Designer: Stéphane Collonge
Art Director: Byron Broadbent
Costume Designer: Grace Snell
Hair & Make-up Designer: Siobhán Harper-Ryan
Key Hair & Make-up/Prosthetic Application: Alice Jones
Prosthetics Make-up Designer : Mark Coulier
Production Sound Mixer: David Giles
Re-recording Mixer: Jovan Adjer
Supervising Sound Editor: Jovan Ajder

Tilda Swinton (Julie, Rosalind)
Joseph Mydell (Bill)
Carly-Sophia Davies (receptionist)
Louis (Louis)
August Joshi (taxi driver)
Crispin Buxton (cousin)

UK 2022
96 mins

A BFI release

The Eternal Daughter
From Fri 24 Nov
Fallen Leaves (Kuolleet lehdet)
From Fri 1 Dec
From Fri 1 Dec
From Fri 15 Dec (Preview on Fri 1 Dec 18:00 + Q&A with director Paul Sng)
Priscilla (preview screenings)
Previews from Wed 27 Dec. Opens Fri 5 Jan
The Boy and the Heron (Kimitachi wa do Ikiruka)
From Wed 27 Dec

The Red Shoes
From Fri 8 Dec

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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