Saint Frances review – unflinching and wildly charming portrait of womanhood

Writer and star Kelly O’Sullivan demystifies the salient experiences of modern femininity at all ages in one of the year's best indies

This is the story of one little girl who has not yet learned shame, and one woman working to unlearn it. The story of Franny, a six-year-old girl so wise, so free, who changes the life of Bridget, the 34-year-old woman, a self-described agnostic feminist, who has an abortion and becomes her nanny.

Saint Frances relishes its paradoxes from the off – Bridget’s abortion and her new job aren’t related, but they are inherently bound in the way she wrestles with ownership of her body, and confidence in her womanhood and empathy for those around her. The film, written by and starring Kelly O’Sullivan as Bridget, exhales authenticity, and feels like a caring embrace to every woman who has ever wondered if they were doing it all wrong.

The script is sharp and sweet in turn, Bridget’s wry sense of humour at odds with the sincere niceness of her one night stand turned sort-of partner (have we normalized a noun for “we’re just seeing each other” yet?) and the plain brilliance of Franny – innocent, but always unafraid.

Ramona Edith-Williams plays Franny with unparalleled charisma, sternly delivering lines with such truthful diction that her character feels like a child you’ve watched grow their whole life – who has somehow now grown wiser than you beyond their years. When Bridget needs a moment to think, Franny, obviously, asks, “About your choices? When I’m in a time out I’m supposed to think about my choices.”

But Saint Frances isn’t merely a sugary little comedy about a charming pairing. It has that kind of likability, but there’s also immense frustration and sadness here too, glimpsed in a wider web of characters both hurting and failing in a carousel of ways. There’s Franny’s mothers, Annie and Maya, who are navigating both postpartum depression and the strains that come with a decade of marriage – not to mention the pressures enforced by the rest of the world stunned by a couple that isn’t straight and white. There’s Jace, the 20-something guy in touch with his feelings who reads Bridget Harry Potter in a cockney accent to help soothe her mind when her bleeding won’t stop. There’s an older guy, a guitar teacher, who hammers home just how much men can gleefully tell women what should and should not be done with their bodies. Who laughs at blood. Who, in bed, doesn’t like to use “those things.”

All these characters matter, because O’Sullivan makes it so. As Bridget, she portrays the contradictory emotions of being alive when your age and gender are weaponised against you by a world that prefers to speak and tell more than it listens. Saint Frances speaks bravely, openly, but most importantly it asks questions. It wonders about faith, about purpose, about whether the shackles we find ourselves withheld by really hold water if we choose to be loved or give love over anything else.

The might of Saint Frances could be explained by quoting dialogue, by praising the tremendous, generous performances and the sensitive direction from O’Sullivan’s romantic partner Alex Thompson. But it is a film so special that it demands to be felt. It understands that many of these situations might cause pain, like when you start crying without realising which only causes you to cry more, or when you might bleed a bit and feel like the entire world will be disgusted irrevocably. But to have such a humble, unassuming film not only recognise but actively champion these things? Such a triumph needs to be experienced as quickly, and as powerfully, as possible.

Saint Frances is now showing in select cinemas across the UK.

Where to watch online

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