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SUNSET SONG – Fade To Black

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In Britain, filmmaker Terence Davies is a national treasure (whether the casual film-going public know it or not) and he has been praised by just about every British critic under the sun, and that praise has continued during this time when the talented writer-director may be at his most prolific. Yet less time between films does make me ponder over the quality that this leaner output provides – Sunset Song, as expertly crafted and earnestly performed as it is, appears to suffer from not enough time spent in gestation (and also comes across as a bit flat and dull).

Adapted by Davies from the Lewis Grassic Gibbon novel of the same name, the film focuses on Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn) in her modest farm-girl life in early 1900s Scotland and shows how the people that come in and out of her life affect her upbringing from college-educated lass to family woman, before leading up to World War 1. Covering and rediscovering many of the themes that have been present in Davies’ others film, namely his remarkable debut Distant Voices, Still Lives (a personal top 5 of mine), Sunset Song can’t help but be overshadowed by that multi-faceted and profoundly crafted piece of work. The most important theme being looked at again is the continuation of an abusive patriarch with the husband, whose dominant tyrannical ways are replaced by the husband, which is finely expressed and all, though comes across as telegraphed because the volatile relationship between Chris and her first husband Ewan (Kevin Guthrie) feels very stock – they’re in love, then they hate each other, then they wish they were back together again. This sort of development of the relationship is one of the many abbreviations in this film that makes me believe it would’ve suited a longer format (such as a TV mini-series) to give more much needed breadth to the characterisation.

Some of the familiar stylistic conventions that Davies has been using since his debut back in 1988 are present here as well, with occasional long slowly panning camera movements that are accompanied by choral music Davies admires so much — it’s impressive seeing these sorts of cinematic flourishes, but they’re not enough to bring the flat story more to life. Sunset Song has an ordinary center, filled with mini-stories that make up this young woman’s life, and despite certain individual scenes appearing very affecting, their culminate power falls short. Housed in spectacular (or sometimes spectacularly drab) early 20th century Scotland mise en scene, there’s no denying Sunset Song’s visual and aural prowess, but there’s something more powerful missing at its core.

DAVID MORGAN-BROWN

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