Magazine article Screen International

'Sunset Song': Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Sunset Song': Review

Article excerpt

Dir. Terence Davies, UK/Luxemburg, 2015, 135 minutes

In Sunset Song, Terence Davies takes on the adaptation of one of the great works of Scottish literature - well-known to Scots, but not so celebrated outside that country. As expected, he's made it a tour de force of drama, composition and colour.

Davies's latest, following on from the Second World War drama Deep Blue Sea in 2011, will appeal to his admirers and to anyone who is drawn to cinema on the big screen - in this case, the broad canvas of a corner of the North East of Scotland before World War I. The recent rise and electoral success of Scots nationalist sentiment won't hurt Sunset Song, either in Scotland or the Scots diaspora, but this epic based on the 1932 novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon (1901-35) seems destined for the festival circuit, art houses and museums. We can also expect an afterlife in Scottish schools, where Sunset Song is already a required text.

In 1932, at is publication, Sunset Song was already looking back to rural life before the widespread mechanisation of agriculture on large farms threw men into unemployment and emigration, and before World War I killed many thousands of them.

Davies, who wrote the script, views these broad trends through the character of Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn), a promising pupil who passes up a career as a teacher to remain on the land. John Guthrie (Peter Mullan), her father, is a brutal farmer who drives Chris's mother to suicide after she can't bear the news that she's pregnant again. When John drops dead of a stroke - while working, of course - Chris steps beyond the traditional authority of relatives to marry local worker, Ewan (Kevin Guthrie).

The film gives us a portrait of rural austerity, but even in Davies's limited palette of grey and brown, there is a near-infinite spectrum of hues in dusky interiors and in the surrounding hills. …

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