TIFF 2015: Agyness Deyn impresses in Terence Davies' lovingly crafted latest
The long-awaited screen version of Sunset Song is as much a Terence Davies film as it is a loving adaptation of the Lewis Grassic Gibbon novel. Told in artful compositions of golden cornfields and snowy winter landscapes, it offers a plaintive, rigorously unsentimental testament to a stoical struggle against an unforgiving land and a life defined by hardship.
There are clear affinities with Davies’ earlier work, especially Distant Voices, Still Lives, in Gibbon’s story of Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn), a young woman in the north-east of Scotland during the early years of the last century. She is clearly bright and able, which makes the thwarting of her hunger for a better life all the more cruel. The biggest obstacle is her pious, tyrannical father who regards his wife and family as little more than slaves in the domestic kingdom that he rules. Peter Mullan plays the role with a fierce, roiling anger.
Chris’ life is scarred by death, war and disappointment. Happiness is only a fleeting visitor in the early days of her marriage to handsome charmer Ewan (Kevin Guthrie). She endures it all with the robust resistance of a tree that refuses to break through the harshest storms.
Deyn has the wan, willowy look of silent cinema’s Lillian Gish. The tender conviction of her performance is a revelation and is totally in tune with a film so evenly paced and contemplative that it borders on the monotonous. Davies was never a man to trade in tear-jerking melodrama; he deals in cold, harsh truths about the way we were. His Sunset Song is a wistful remembrance of the joys and sorrows, triumphs and tragedies that mark a human life. You suspect it is a film with the force to linger and grow in the memory.
Screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival 2015. General release from Fri 4 Dec.