Sunset Song

 

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A devoted adaptation of the Scottish novel of 1932 by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, this is nevertheless a film that only Terence Davies could have made.


One gathers that Terence Davies has spent fifteen years planning to bring to the screen the classic novel Sunset Song and it is a mark of his respect for it that his own writing credit here opts for the phrase ‘adapted by’. As it emerges on screen this is a story in three parts, covering distinct phases in the life of its young heroine, Chris Guthrie played by Agyness Deyn. Initially we see her life as a farmer’s daughter in rural Scotland at a time not long before the First World War. Stern patrician attitudes were common then and her often violent father (Peter Mullan) rules the roost with a vengeance. But, although Chris has to give up hopes of a university education, she does find her life changing and the film moves on to portray her courtship and marriage to the gentle Ewan Tavendale (Kevin Guthrie). However, their lives will be disrupted by the call to join up and fight in 1914 and it is the war and its effect on them that dominates the last third of the film.

 

 Sunset Song

 

  

This screen adaptation is quintessential Terence Davies. Although, as in The House of Mirth (2000), his artistry, spellbinding though it is, is close enough to the surface to draw attention to itself, there is no doubting Davies’s emotional commitment to the material and his appreciation of the tribute that the novel pays to the land and to Scotland. Michael McDonagh’s colour photography is absolutely beautiful while the inclusion of scenes in which people sing is sensitively handled to add to the local colour. But, if you want to point to just one sequence that typifies Davies, it is that in which changing visuals blend with that classic choral recording of “All in the April Evening” with its simple yet profound impact.

 

Given these comments, the rating above may seem to make little sense and, indeed, the worst accusation I can make against Davies is that a view of barbed wire and mud is lingered on for too long (Sunset Song is not King and Country). What I do find is that the sudden transformation of one character’s behaviour and the ultimate response to that carry no conviction. Having checked the book after the screening, I can confirm that the film is indeed faithful to Gibbon so if, for me, it seriously undermines the work that is his fault and not that of Terence Davies. In any case his admirers will find much to savour here and Deyn’s performance is special. Ideally cast, she goes beyond gaining our sympathy to give the character of Chris Guthrie a quality that I can only describe as translucent.

       

MANSEL STIMPSON                                                                                                             

 

Cast: Agyness Deyn, Peter Mullan, Kevin Guthrie, Jack Greenlees, Ian Pirie, Daniela Nardini.


Dir Terence Davies, Pro Roy Boulter, Solon Papadopoulos and Nicolas Steil, Adapted by Davies from the novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Ph Michael McDonough, Pro Des Andy Harris, Ed David Charap, Costumes Uli Simon.


A Hurricane Films, Iris Productions and SellOutPictutres production/BFI etc-Metrodome Distribution Ltd.
136 mins. UK/Luxembourg. 2015. Rel: 4 December 2015. Cert. 15.