Spoiler Alert – This review reveals key elements of the plot of “Sunset Song”
Terence Davies is perhaps my favourite film director. He makes beautiful films. They often draw on his own childhood in England. They often prominently feature damaged male characters. He unashamedly disavows any need to entertain or please his audience. When asked why his films are often slow and dark, he said “They are a gift”. I don’t find his films boring or dark. Visually they are stunning, and the soundtrack is carefully constructed to complement and lift the film.
So where does that leave “Sunset Song”, his latest film, about a rural Scottish family at the outbreak of the First World War? This is a longish (2 hrs 15 mins) film based on a novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. The Scottish landscape is stunning, although I’m not sure the sun shines quite that much in Scotland. The story follows Chris Guthrie, from childhood through to married life. She is played brilliantly and convincingly, I thought, by a relatively inexperienced actor, Agyness Deyn. To my ears, her Scottish accent was convincing. All the roles, in fact, are well-played with the possible exception of Chris’s husband, the confusingly named actor Kevin Guthrie. The scene where he returns on leave from the front did not convince me at all.
There is a lot of violence in this film, without too much blood. Chris’s father is particularly abusive to her brother, who submits unflinchingly to the violence. Chris’s mother is victim to the father’s sexual violence, which is eventually too much for her. Chris herself is unscathed until her war damaged husband takes out his anger on her. Unlike her brother, she does not submit meekly.
Other than some happy times immediately before and after her marriage, there is not much light in this film. However, I suspect it is a film, like Davies’ others, that will linger in my consciousness. His determination not to lightly entertain us is front and centre in this film, as is his preoccupation with the damaged male psyche, the pointlessness of war and the negative influence of organised religion.
In cinemas in Australia now (September 2016)