Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Magnolia Pictures Film Review - SUNSET SONG

Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn) is smart, studious and the top student in her class in rural Scotland.  Her father John (Peter Mullan) is stern, strict and very religious often clashing with his eldest son Will (Jack Greenlees). Her Mother Jean (Daniela Nardini) endures the urges and whims of her husband seemingly spending most of her time in their bedroom either trying to avoid sex or giving birth to more children.

Chris is never seen without a book in her hand or studying by gaslight at the kitchen table. She plans to be a teacher having been accepted to go to school in England when a series of family event changes her plans. Chris becomes responsible for increasing duties and chores at the family farm. The responsibilities continue to grow as her dreams of higher education and a teaching career fade into the countryside.

Director Terence Davies presents a passion project that he's been looking for a chance to shoot for several years.  The story is based on a novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon that's a staple for any Scottish youth. The subject matter, remote locations and 135 minute run time may give the impression of a difficult watch but the narrative, acting and breathtaking cinematography keep the viewer engaged throughout  the piece.

Cinematographer Michael McDonough deserves special mention. His keen eye to presenting the vast rural terrain is evident from the first frame where Chris is lounging in the tall grass to her heading home from a day of studies with a pal amongst luscious green pastures and firm oak rooted trees. McDonough running visual themes of natural window light and full blue skies racing out to meet the horizon are a high point for the viewer.

Agyness Deryn is just about in every frame of the film as Chris. Her character grows from teen eldest daughter to adult hood in the file. Chris has to deal with many different and changing family relationships against the background of the panoramic but often challenging Scottish highlands with the reality of the Great War looming in the distance. Peter Mullan is professional as always in the role of Father a devout religious hardworking patriarch. Mullan performance is unique combination of of both physical and understated.  Ian Pirie is notable as Chae Strachan. He is a colleague of Father and a constant in Chris' life. Despite his advanced age he is the first in the community to sign up to fight the German's putting incredible pressure on the younger able bodied local men.

Sunset Song provides a comprehensive look at rural life in Northwest Scotland at the time of the First World War.  Adapted from a beloved book Davies and his production team recreate the attire, respect the dominant role for the land and display sentiment of the highlanders towards day to day local affairs side by side with milestone and international events. It's a film that I can recommend

*** Out of 4.  

Sunset Song | Terence Davies |  U.K. / Luxembourg | 2015 | 135 minutes.

Tags: Scotland, Highlands, Farming, Education, The Great War, Religion, Childbirth, Twins, Suicide, 1910's.