The fog slowly dissipates to reveal a quiet country lane circled by gnarly trees. A taxi comes around the bend, the warmth of its headlights barely penetrating the thick blue shroud of evening. Inside, the driver tells his passengers a ghost story: a wedding at a hotel, a photograph of the happy couple posed in front of the building, and a spectral form materialising in the window behind them. 

“Nobody you could account for?” asks one of the women in the backseat. “Absolutely nobody,” he replies. “So I avoid the place on dark winter nights.” 

Julie Hart (Tilda Swinton) in the car enroute to the Welsh manor house in The Eternal Daughter.

Soon we cut to an entrance to a property, angled to emphasise the sign at the gate. The words Moel Famau Hall appear in cursive lettering beneath a crest with two tongue-baring dragons. We’ve arrived at the principal setting of Joanna Hogg’s latest film The Eternal Daughter: a stately manor on the border of North Wales and Cheshire, England. 

Adapting the English director’s tense long takes and observational realism into gothic horror, The Eternal Daughter rounds out Hogg’s loosely autobiographical trilogy of critically acclaimed films. The Souvenir Parts I and II (2019 and 2021) follow a young filmmaker named Julie Hart and her mother Rosalind, played by real-life daughter and mother Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton. In this third instalment, Tilda Swinton performs both roles: Julie, now a middle-aged woman, is traveling with her aging mother to the hotel that is their family’s ancestral home. 

The ancestral home is in Wales, a fact the film plays up at its outset – but not one that has received any serious consideration in early writing about the film. Yet the reason for the film’s setting remains opaque, as does the potential relevance of Wales to the family secrets that the film doesn’t quite disclose. The narrative ambiguities of this studiously reticent film suggest that something other than the familial and psychological dramas of Hogg’s well-to-do English protagonists is at stake. Some other ghosts haunt the grounds of the film. Or rather the grounds themselves are the haunted thing, present but also occluded – much like the site of Wales in the landscape of contemporary film. 


The secrets of the Hart family draw mother and daughter to the estate where Rosalind spent much of her childhood. The pair have come to celebrate Rosalind’s birthday, but Julie is also attempting to write a film about her mother without her knowledge. Mysteries multiply over the unfolding days and nights at the hotel, as Julie (and we) try to uncover the history Rosalind lived in this house – a remote, eerie place where ghosts peer from windows, strange noises filter from the upper floors, and creaking doors seem to open themselves. 

Rosalind (Tilda Swinton) contemplates the ghosts of her past in The Eternal Daughter.

Secrets are teased but never truly spilled. What haunts the house? What haunts Rosalind? Though Rosalind carries around a plastic bag of old letters and other documents, and though Julie rifles through the bag while her mother is sleeping, the answers given to these questions feel unsatisfactory. Rosalind’s memories of World War II and the deaths of family members do not seem to account for the wider feelings of unease or even dread that permeate the estate. Nor do her memories offer insight about the nature of her connection, if any, to the country of her ancestral home.

This ambiguity is partly an effect of The Eternal Daughter’s major plot twist. That twist will not come as a surprise to many viewers (or at least those versed in the conventions of psychological thrillers). By the time the film recasts itself in its final act as a rendition of a daughter’s grief, giving new significance to Swinton’s dual performance, the audience may be forgiven for thinking that this is a mystery without a resolution, style in place of plot. The many positive reviews of The Eternal Daughter at its release marked this fact as they lauded its moody, atmospheric pleasures.1 

Yet for us, watching at a cinema in the Welsh capital, the film promised much more than it delivered at a narrative level. Not only that, but its formal stylishness seemed, to us, far from neutral. Early in their stay, Julie and Rosalind equivocate over their dinner menus, attended by a disdainful and bored Welsh hotel employee (Carly-Sophia Davies). Rosalind comments approvingly over a salad option with Welsh fetta: “So nice,” she says to her daughter, “when it’s local.” 

The dialogue stresses the film’s locality in a way that feels overdetermined, especially given how incidental the Welsh setting ends up being to the narrative. These kinds of moments in the film also locate it in a longer history of Welsh cinema, intentionally or otherwise. In fact, The Eternal Daughter shares its setup and certain stylistic elements with a landmark early Universal horror film also filmed and set in Wales: James Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932), an adaptation of English author J. B. Priestley’s 1927 novel Benighted. A grand old Welsh house, accessed by a country road at night, soon reveals itself as a site of uncanny strangeness. At the film’s opening, a carful of English visitors to Shrewsbury, Wales, find themselves caught in a storm so rough it feels aberrant, apocalyptic – like the tempest that rages in Whale’s previous and most famous film, Frankenstein (1931). 

Theatrical release poster for The Old Dark House, designed by Karoly Grosz

The Old Dark House is built on Gothic horror foundations. Unnatural nature is the first sign of the supernatural encounters and repressed secrets that await the unsuspecting English travellers. In The Eternal Daughter, the storm is quelled, smothered by a blanket of fog that lifts only once the Harts depart the house. In general, too, whatever the continuities between these two Wales-set mysteries, The Old Dark House is the more overt, gauche film. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the figure of the drunken and crazed butler Morgan, portrayed by Frankenstein’s Boris Karloff: one monster swapped for another. Powerfully built and capable only of a groaning, guttural inarticulacy, Morgan is a demonic presence, terrorising the women with thinly veiled threats of sexual violence and attacking the men with murderous intent. 

Publicity still of Boris Karloff as the Welsh butler Morgan, terrorising Gloria Stuart’s English visitor Margaret Waverton, in The Old Dark House

Morgan is also the embodiment of Welshness in Whale’s film and Preistley’s novel. The first encounter between Morgan and one of the visiting Englishmen, Roger Penderel, is an occasion for jokes about the unintelligibility of the Welsh language. The novel’s description of Morgan’s appearance leaves little room for misunderstanding the nature of his monstrosity. We read: 

A huge lump of a man stood there as if he were staring out of another world. Penderel had a sudden desire to pound the great senseless carcase. But then he remembered that they were now in a remote part of Wales, were really travellers in a foreign country, and that it was quite possible that this fellow, who was obviously some kind of servant, could hardly understand English. He might be the solitary surviving specimen of the original aborigines of this island.2

Physical deformity and unkemptness, an assumed failure to understand and use the “master’s” language, depersonalisation as a “specimen”: Morgan, raging like the storm outside, reproduces racist tropes of the national other from the perspective of England. The Old Dark House invokes a conception of Wales as an uncivilised backwater, a place of primeval oddity which provokes uneasiness—not least given its proximity to England and hence its potential to pollute the nation with which it shares a border. 

The Eternal Daughter doesn’t incorporate anti-Welsh racism of anything like the order of Whale’s film or Preistley’s novel. Yet because Hogg’s film first foregrounds and then underexplains its setting – in tandem with how it fails to explain the family secrets it harbours – it bundles in these negative associations with Wales and Welshness without working through them. Like The Old Dark House, The Eternal Daughter figures Wales as a place of inarticulable mystery and Gothic strangeness. Like The Old Dark House, The Eternal Daughter figures Wales as a place that is best exited.

Wales is also given in Hogg’s film as a place without particularity, however much the camera lingers on the sign at the entrance to Moel Famau Hall. The preternatural fog sloughs off the details of the landscape, making them blurry and indistinct, as the Harts enter the terrain of memory and unconsciousness that Julie longs to explore. Turning inwards, Julie also turns away from Wales, a place which is not a place and which, in its placelessness, is open to the psychodramas and projections of outsiders. 

And so for Julie, as for other English travellers in Welsh cinema history, the unfathomable sounds and menacing shadows turn out to be all in her own head.


The Eternal Daughter was itself a secret. It was made during COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 with a skeleton crew at Soughton Hall, a Georgian country house usually used as a wedding venue, and it was publicly announced only once filming was complete. No doubt the choice of location was mainly pragmatic, determined by the need for relative isolation during a deadly pandemic at least as much as the qualities of the Welsh landscape or the country’s robust infrastructure for film and television production. Indeed, the constraints of the pandemic structure Tilda Swinton’s performance as Julie and Rosalind, a double act that translates the imperatives of social distancing into a powerful narrative conceit.

Even so, it’s too easy for Wales to be evacuated of specificity, to become the stage for an emphatically psychological – and English – ghost story. And the fact that Hogg’s marking and occluding of the film’s setting is unlikely to be politically motivated is more or less the point. Wales is being used in The Eternal Daughter in the same way it is used in many film and television projects produced within the nation’s borders – maybe even most projects. Those of us who live in Cardiff know the uncanny experience of watching a television show purportedly set in London that we immediately recognise as one of our city’s café-lined Victorian arcades or the wide road that runs by the Welsh government building. Just as Vancouver in Canada is constantly being passed off as San Francisco, New York, or Tokyo in big-budget films and TV productions, Cardiff in Wales seems to appear more on camera as London than it does as itself. 

UK and international production companies are attracted to Wales because it is well-resourced and established as a filmmaking hub, including excellent local practitioners at every level of production, and it’s a relatively affordable place to make films or shows. The Welsh government has actively encouraged this state of affairs for obvious economic reasons, including through co-funding initiatives via Creative Wales and Ffilm Cymru Wales.3  The UK government, too, is devoting substantial resources to future-proof the film sector.4 

But Wales’ for-hire film industry – stimulated by investments and property acquisitions by US companies – means that the nation itself is both central to contemporary film and oddly peripheral to it.5 Presented in the guise of either no place or some other place altogether, Wales is itself ghostly. It is a presence that reflects an absence and vice versa. 

By not fully divulging the secrets at its heart, Hogg’s film invites us to search for what it hides away. The deepest secret in The Eternal Daughter may be how the film contributes to a UK and global film culture in which Wales has a paradoxical status as both essential and inessential. The nation’s purportedly haunted ground provides a context for the telling of stories that engage with Wales in at best superficial – and at worst pejorative – ways. 

It seems relevant to note that when the BFI (British Film Institute), which part-funded The Eternal Daughter, made available to programmers a list of UK locations where Hogg would be making in-person appearances at screenings, not a single location was in Wales. There are many good reasons why the director may not be able to cross the border for such an event, of course. But it’s still a conspicuous omission—and one that connects to larger challenges in supporting a thriving film culture in Wales.

After all, a well-supported national infrastructure for film does not necessarily equate to a well-supported national film culture. To the contrary, the celebration of film production in Wales can serve to mystify the real inequalities that exist in terms of both representation and resources between Wales and England, for instance – not to mention the real barriers Welsh filmmakers often face in trying to get their films made and distributed in the UK and globally. 


Cadi emerges from the Welsh landscape in Gwledd

Other recent Welsh films suggest how horror tropes can be reinvented as they are embedded in the country’s landscape, history, and imaginary – with implications in and beyond Wales. Notably, Lee Haven Jones’ Gwledd (The Feast, 2021), a Welsh-language folk horror film, overturns conventions and cliches of horror as it leaves behind the ancestral home and returns the genre to the land and the soil. In the film, a young Welsh woman named Cadi (Annes Elwy) is hired to wait upon a wealthy Welsh family as they give a dinner party for a business associate and two potential clients. The clients are a farming couple whose land adjoins the family’s one-time functioning farm, separated by a geological feature known as The Rise. The Rise has been identified as a likely repository of valuable minerals. 

Cadi and Glenda in Glenda’s kitchen in Gwledd

Cadi’s appearance in the luxury home, trailing dirt along its pristine surfaces, heralds the doom of the family. The horror she visits upon them is judgment for their exploitation of the land for material gain, and it emerges from the earth itself, offering a pre-emptive answer to the question posed by the mother of the family, Glenda (Nia Roberts), to the man behind the mining project, Euros (Rhodri Meilir), at the film’s end: “Ar ôl i ti gymryd popeth, beth fydd yn weddill?” (“After you’ve taken everything, what will be left?”)

Unlike The Eternal Daughter, Gwledd’s articulation of horror is inconceivable without Wales. Not unrelatedly, Jones’ film is also the more powerful film in generic and political terms. This “environmental revenge Horror,” as Jones has described it, reckons with violation to the Welsh landscape in its specificity and richness. More pointedly, it cautions us over the danger of mining its earth as resources for the profits of outsiders. 

The Welsh witch Cadi unleashes her wrath upon the family in Gwledd

Cadi is a specifically Welsh kind of witch, whose connection to the figure of the ancient mother goddess is a feature of Welsh folklore received from Celtic myth. Both punisher and protector, her wrath is unleashed by the family’s refusal to honour and preserve the distinctive character of their homeland. Early in Gwledd, Glenda tells Cadi, “Ni’n hala’r rhan fwya’r flwyddyn yn Llundain wrth reswm” (“Naturally, we spend most of the year in London.”) The family’s preference for England over Wales is clear. And in Jones’ world, at least, there are consequences when investment is really extraction.


  1. Jonathan Romney, ‘The Eternal Daughter Film Review – Double Tilda Swinton Haunts Ghostly Hotel Chiller,’ Financial Times, 23 November 2023; Wendy Ide, ‘The Eternal Daughter Review – Two Parts Hammer, One Part Tales of the Unexpected,’ The Observer, 25 November 2023.
  2. J. B. Priestley, Benighted (Richmond: Valancourt, 2018), p. 12–13.
  3. Welsh Government, ‘A New Approach to Film Funding in Wales,’ 15 June 2022.
  4. Mark Sweeney and Harriet Sherwood, ‘UK Government to Invest in Film and TV AI Special-Effects Research,’ The Guardian, 13 June 2023.
  5. Welsh Government, ‘US Investment Boost for Wales’s Thriving Film and TV Sector,’ 13 September 2023.

About The Author

Alix Beeston is a writer and academic based in Wales. She is Reader in Literature and Culture at Cardiff University and the author of In and Out of Sight: Modernist Writing and the Photographic Unseen (2018). She is also the coeditor, with Stefan Solomon, of the award-winning volume Incomplete: The Feminist Possibilities of the Unfinished Film (2023). Robert Lloyd lectures in English Literature at Cardiff University, Wales. He specializes in twentieth and twenty-first century Gothic fiction and film, with a particular emphasis on ghost stories and theories of spectrality. He is the coeditor, with Joan Passey, of Shirley Jackson's Dark Tales: Reconsidering the Short Fiction (2024).

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