Based on the classic 1932 novel Sunset Song by the writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon widely regarded as one of the most important Scottish novels of the 20th century a novel rooted in the landscape of Aberdeenshire. It was the first part of a trilogy A Scots Quair all of which have been adapted for BBC TV. The central character of the trilogy is the boyishly attractive Chris Guthrie who in this adaptation is brought wonderfully to life by Agyness Deyn who you may remember had the lead role in 2013’s Electricity.
Set in the fictional estate of Kinraddie in The Mearns, Kincardineshire at the start of the 20th century and taking in the Great War, Sunset Song (2015) tackles the hardship of rural Scottish crofting life where people toil the land just to stay above poverty level and how most woman had a subservient role in society being at their husbands beck and call to keep house, have sex and rear children. Family life in the Guthrie household is dominated by her brutal father John (a chilling Peter Mullan) a religious bigot who seems to get his enjoyment from taking the belt to his son Will (Jack Greenlees) and bullying his wife Jean (Daniela Nardini). It’s the young and intelligent Chris Guthrie who hopes for more from life - but tragic circumstances intercede.
Soon after directing The House of Mirth (2000) Liverpool born master filmmaker Terence Davies along with others planned an adaptation of Grassic Gibbon’s novel but because of problems raising the necessary finance did not start production on the film until 2014, Davies had first fallen in love with the story in 1971 when it was shown on the BBC and starred EastEnders actress Vivian Heilbron as Chris. During this hiatus Davies made two films, the first a documentary commissioned to mark Liverpool’s year as European City of Culture and recalling Davies’s life growing up in Liverpool in the 1950’s and 60’s. Of Time and the City (2008) used newsreel and documentary footage with a voice over from the director. After this he adapted Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play of the same name The Deep Blue Sea (2011).
Although imbedded with typical Terence Davies trademarks and the socialist heart found in his earlier work’s Distant Voice, Still Lives (1988) and to a slightly lesser extent in The Long Day Closes (1992), which both included snapshots of ‘real’ life family experiences, births, marriage and death all blighted by a sadistic patriarch and of course the required sing along, but it’s the slow pacing of Sunset Song that blights the later part of the film. People familiar with the great mans work will know that Davies characteristically does not rush his direction allowing us to saviour his scripts but in this case it seems just a wee bit too prolonged. But please don’t think this is bad movie, quite the contrary, it’s an excellent film, beautifully shot and a worthy addition to the directors oeuvre.