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United Kingdom 2008
Directed by
Terence Davies
76 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

Of Time And The City

Synopsis: Terence Davies uses poetry, memory, archival footage and music to construct a eulogy to his home town of Liverpool.

Exquisite is probably the best word to describe this piece of personal film-making, which is, in essence a visual poem. It is something to be experienced by the viewer rather than to be read about, but I’ll try to convince you why you need to see this superb film.

Liverpool is the birthplace of director Davies (best known for Still Voices, Distant Lives, 1988). It is a city I know little about, except of course as the origin of The Fab Four. Davies however uses his attachment to this city not merely in a nostalgic sense, but as a means for exploring the seasons of life.

Some extraordinary archival footage is employed that depicts the harsh life of Liverpool’s working class of the post-war years and slow, drawn-out pans of the bleak housing commission estates are ironically juxtaposed against Peggy Lee singing The Folks That Live On The Hill. We see Liverpool in its heyday, with majestic buildings, and then, with the song “Dirty Old City” as background, see it in all its post-industrial shabbiness. We see the resilience and gaiety of children as they skip rope, and the glamour that came to Liverpool as  visiting movie stars, and the pomp of the Queen’s coronation, which Davies describes as “Betty and Phil and 1000 flunkies”. Davies’ contempt for royalty is not hidden, nor his disdain of the Mersey sound which emanated from the city and swept the world. His love of composers like Handel and Liszt is reflected in other parts of the soundtrack. The majestic Liverpool Cathedral and the role of religion in Davies’ young life causes him to reflect upon the many hours of useless prayer and how Catholicism only exacerbated his guilt for his homosexuality.

An entire history of Britain in that era is subtly encapsulated in the sweeping vision of this film, and yet it still remains intensely personal. Using a spine-tingling voice over, Davies bares his soul. He also draws heavily upon the poetry of writers such as T.S. Eliot whose words, taken from Little Gidding, resonate with the director's intent :

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time

There is much in Of Time And The City that defies verbalising, yet it taps into the universal human heart – that commonality I believe we all share of being forever bound up in our past and sensing the unbearable sadness of time marching on.

See the film, experience it, and marvel that there are some filmmakers with real vision.




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