Starring Agyness Deyn, Kevin Guthrie, Ian Pirie, Peter Mullan,
They don’t make them like this anymore. Terrence Davis like Anthony Minghella, Terrence Malik or Martin Scorsese, has a flare for the epic, the bold, the understanding of time and space. Davis’ adaptations are typically period and explore the hardships of a particular era as much as the characters within. This time he sets his sights on Scotland in the early 1900’s, and as usual, follows a female through tragedy, self-discovery, and tragedy again. This time however, Davis really outdoes his previous work, The House of Mirth (2000) with Gillian Anderson and The Deep Blue Sea (2011) with Rachel Weisz. Sunset Song is shot in spectacular 70mm outdoors, capturing the rich and seemingly endless countryside.
John Guthrie (Mullan) is a hard man, he is a beast to wife and children, and spends most of his days working the land as a farmer. Chris (Deyn) is one of six children, her older brother Will (Jack Greenlees) leaves the family, unable to take the beatings, while her mother, stripped of every emotional and mental ounce of courage, poisons herself and newborn twins to escape the debilitation of her husband. As the years pass, Chris at age 18 inherits the farm and her father’s estate. A prize wife for any man, she falls for local farmer Ewan Tavendale (Guthrie) who is small in stature, but grand in kindness. They create a wonderful life together, more happiness than Chris has ever experienced. Then the war comes knocking on Scotland’s front door.
Quite an experience, if not an endurance test.
Sunset Song’s scenes run a bit slower than most modern day films, I wouldn’t call them boring, but many audiences won’t have the patience. It does allow the viewer more time to soak up the cinematic beauty on screen. From the cinematography, to the authentic stables and cottages. Davis gives the audience a real understanding of how women fared during this era. He embeds us right along with the characters. Model turned actor, Deyn (Hail Caesar) does a decent job at cultivating this character, although her age is a little distracting playing someone younger. The characters of Will and Ewan are especially intriguing, both seem to fly against usual male period stereotypes and both actors are wonderful discovers.
It’s the final act where Sunset Song seems to fall apart. Not only have we become restless as the film saunters passed two hours, but when Ewan returns home from war the expected changed personality (another in a long list of tragedies for Chris) is a bit extreme from the last time we saw him. “Nothing endured but the land. The lives were just a breath. I feel like I am the land.” There is such beauty in this film, such deep passages, yet for some reason there is still a barrier between our lead character. It’s almost a great film. In some ways it begins to resemble Far From the Maddening Crowd, the Carey Mulligan version. Sunset Song is more artistically minded, yet less practical and perhaps that’s the real issue, that it never gives into the narrative or the emotion. Still, it’s quite an experience, if not an endurance test.
A mystifyingly subjective epic film that captures the life and struggles of 1900’s Scotland.