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UK 2016
Directed by
Terence Davies
135 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Sunset Song

As you’d expect from Terence Davies, Sunset Song is a supremely well-crafted, truthful and reflective film. It is so good in fact that there is little to say about it other than “see it”.

Based on a novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, the fact that it was written in Scots dialect no doubt explains why you haven’t heard of it Although Davies tones down the brogue somewhat the dialogue can be still challenging at times but this isn’t an issue as Sunset Song with its verdant rural setting, marvellous production design, costume design and art direction all filmed superbly by Davies’ regular cinematographer Michael McDonough is above all visual experience.

The film tells the story of Chris, (Agyness Deyn) a bright, inquisitive schoolgirl growing to womanhood in rural Scotland in the years before World War I. She narrates her story in passages which I assume are lifted direct from the novel. It is not a plot-driven story but rather a remembrance of things past but  although tending to the sentimental in places Sunset Song is hardly an exercise in picture postcard nostalgia. Indeed one of the driving forces of Chris is her desire to know the world beyond provincial Scotland in general and a grueling home life dominated by her overbearing, violent father (Mke Leigh regular Peter Mullan in a frightingly effect performance) who treats her mother, as her aunt puts it, as a “breeding sow”.

As the title suggests in a broad sense Sunset Song is about change, death and renewal as the generations tick over. Her father buys the latest in farm equipment, her brother, chafing under the tyranny of their father, emigrates to South America, Chris herself takes a radical step to a different life and World War I finally arrives to shatter the permanence so naturally assumed by people who live by the recurring seasons.

We see all this through Chris’s empathetic eyes. Deyn was a wonderful choice for the principal role, understated in her performance as her character grows in experience and wisdom. Also persuasive is Jack Greenlees as her literally long-suffering brother. They well and truly fulfill the oft-referred-to request for characters about whom we care.




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