Directed by Terence Davies
Country: UK / Luxembourg
The name of the English filmmaker, Terence Davies, is associated with rigor and formalism, which are well patent in the strong period dramas “The House of Mirth” and “Deep Blue Sea” from 2000 and 2011, respectively. In between them, in 2008, he set out the meditative documentary “Of Time and the City”, a poetic homage to his birthplace (Liverpool), which received general critical acclaim.
With the rustic drama, “Sunset Song”, an adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon's 1932 novel of the same name, Mr. Davies’ methods don’t change and the same directorial sharpness is applied, enhanced by the outstanding production values.
The story takes place at the start of the 20th Century in North East Scotland, where the handsome and bright Chris (Agyness Deyn) calmly narrates her own story.
Willing to become a teacher, Chris tries to study whenever she has a chance, a task that isn’t so easy due to the hard work on the farm and the unpleasant atmosphere lived at home.
Her stern father, John Guthrie (Peter Mullan), is often violent and abusive, spreading fear and anguish in the family. Usually, his main target is his older son, Will (Jack Greenlees), who can only find solace in the arms of Chris whenever he’s violently thrashed.
Unfortunately, the siblings can’t count on their depressive mother, Jean (Daniela Nardini), who just gave birth to twins and, not long afterward, finds she’s pregnant again. Hopeless and disoriented, Jean couldn’t cope with the idea of having another child and poisons herself to death.
The vexed Will decides to abandon the house, lacking any motivation to help his father while the twins go to live with an aunt. This leaves the gracious Chris, a blossoming flower facing the disquietude of the coming-of-age, living alone with her ghastly father.
John has a stroke and ends up bedridden. Yet, he still shows his despicable character in an appalling scene just before dying.
Is the gracious Chris finally free from hardship? The answer is yes and no.
She gets married with a hard-working young lad, Ewan Taverdale (Kevin Guthrie), and the couple lives harmoniously for a few years. However, their love faces a deep abyss when the World War I breaks out.
Not always expeditious in terms of narrative, “Sunset Song” would have benefited if shortened, especially in those moments when a dragging melancholy takes over the story – perhaps not the perfect time to slideshow multiple picturesque Scottish landscapes.
Mr. Davies, a lyrical observer who wasn’t totally faithful to the novel, lost impact when setting up two or three staged scenes, which maybe were the causes why I couldn’t take this story so seriously.
Michael McDonough’s splendorous cinematography and Agyness Deyn’s delightful performance are the wild cards that prevent this drama from becoming narrower.