Sunset Song : A Film Review

Sunset Song
Directed by Terence Davies Produced by Sol Papadopoulos Roy Boulter
Nicolas Steil Screenplay by Terence Davies
Based on Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon 1932
Peter Mullan as Father
Agyness Deyn as Chris Guthrie Kevin Guthrie as Ewan Tavendale
Hugh Ross as Inspector Ian Pirie as Chae Strachan
Jamie Michie as Mr. Kinloch Niall Greig Fulton as John Brigson
Jim Sweeney as Preacher Jack Greenlees as Will Guthrie
Douglas Rankine as Long Rob Trish Mullin as Mistress Melon
David Ganly as Tinker Linda Duncan McLaughlin as Auntie Janet
Julian Nest as Peter Semple Tom Duncan as McIvor
Music by Gast Waltzing
Cinematography Michael McDonough Edited by David Charap
Running time 135 minutes Country United Kingdom Luxembourg
Language English Cert. 15.
Sunset Song

Song in Tune
Dialect is something you either get or struggle with. Non-locals (with little experience of Scots) have said they struggled with the very dramatic, tonal versed Shakespearian dialogue in the recent film of the ‘Scottish play’ indeed it took a while to adjust and tune to it as wee are rarely given Shakespeare in both the dialect and pentameter used diligently here.
Sunset song has periods particularly in crowd scenes, one in particular when an important authors polemic is aimed and thrust across a community hard nailed into religiosity and kindred spirit.

This film is undoubtedly strong on undercurrent and has obvious front morality alongside. A writer cut down so early, more to follow on this later, would surely have developed a deeply trenchant and more significant treatise on the republicanism deeply felt as an analysis of his life view. Like men lost at war, many would have other contrary opinions and wildly contrasting views to those who survived and of courses the direction of G.B. And Ireland was changed for ever. Scotland is only now returning to this now after the reformer David Steel whose pressure borne fruit and instilled devolutionary politics in our vocabulary. It was his victory. Now this film is a statement in the same vein.

Whether it works is another matter. Many will bypass this and remain fixed on the depiction of the times while carrying key messages of the brutal losses of war. Some lingering doleful black dark themes are carefully filmed but are as fixed set visual conceits as a memorial such as the local Conlig trenches, were you are invited through the trench experience. It is a travesty at best.
Rural and Town
Sometimes the look of the film avoids the nature, the actual, manure, constant labour, animal behaviours preferring a townies depiction of ‘wild horses’ distressed mad animals who would fly through a barn door dragging you along with it terrified and broken. No this is a version made pictorial and neatly framed while delivering the note and story nevertheless.
There is a tuning fork in the hay making of this scenic Scottish morality tale. It is in the hands of Michael McDonough whose cinematography gives this claustrophobic family at war. The casting of Agness Deyn as central youthful Chris Guthrie is a fine call though she is trapped acting wise with the flaming purges of family argument surrounding her as onlooker. She rises above it most times and delivers a very difficult dialogue and part with assured and abandons herself to the weakness then masterly, Glenda Jackson like turns on the womanly strength of assuredness and acts her bones off.
No comfort for her though in this conservative treatment of a distinguished – regarded often as Scotland’s finest novel – Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s classic Scottish novel, of 1932.
Simultaneously on Tour
This the start of this years Theatre review of the very same and Perth production of the Sunset Song bring a longing of having seen it also – As the last notes of the Flowers of the Forest died away, the sun set on old Scotland – and the lights went up on what was at times a searing production of Alasdair Cording’s adaptation of the Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s masterpiece.

Strength of the Story
It is the story of a young woman who has lost both parents whose loss she struggles to understand and is swayed away from where her intelligence would otherwise direct her to University, into marriage on New Years Eve 1914 to the ploughman, Ewan Tavendale played by Kevin Guthrie.

This is the North East of Scotland and the novel is a superb touchstone on the 1914 – 1918 war which unfolds a new era and harsh reality to the apparent timeless octaves of the Scottish song of life. It gives a truthful sounding of the severe challenges of environment and loss of control over the waywardness of the exterior life. This includes the patriarchal culture and religious dogma.
Lewis Grassic Gribbon was born in 1901 in Mearns, Hillhead Seggart, Auchterless , south of Aberdeen and died just three years after this book was published in 1935, aged 33 in Welwyn Garden City, Herts. His life cut short after peritonitis. His career began as a journalist in Aberdeen then aged 16 and onto joining in 1919 the Royal Army Service Corps serving in Iran, India and Egypt before enlisting in the Royal Air Force in 1920. In the RAF he worked as a clerk and spent some time in the Middle East. He married Rebecca Middleton (known as “Ray”) in 1925 and they settled in Welwyn Garden City.
His real name was James Leslie Mitchell.
Once your finished watching the film you can turn to watching the TV version which was the first colour production by BBC Scotland and is found…
This is not the series but could lead you to it as a trail!
Sunset Song Quotes
“So that was Chris and her reading and schooling, two Chrisses there were that fought for her heart and tormented her. You hated the land and the coarse speak of the folk and learning was brave and fine one day; and the next you’d waken with the peewits crying across the hills, deep and deep, crying in the heart of you and the smell of the earth in your face, almost you’d cry for that, the beauty of it and the sweetness of the Scottish land and skies.”
― Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Sunset Song

“Folk said he had once been a scholar and written books and learned and learned till his brain fair softened and right off his head he’d gone and into the poorhouse asylum.”
― Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Sunset Song

“So it was that she knew she liked him, loved him as they said in the soppy English books, you were shamed and a fool to say that in Scotland.”
― Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Sunset Song
The portal of Chris’s lately entwined husband as she delivers their first child is paced as a portrait of panic across his grim, contorted features. Acting strains. As he imagines perhaps St Mirren losing a third home game in a row. It is plantagenet acting as the bowl of Shakespearian wisdom without the story unfolding anything other than birth pains. Agonising yes but a common source of pain.
The scene of Chris’s labour, as loud and agonising as the ones her own mother went through, plays out entirely on her now husband’s panicked, desperate features as he paces downstairs – a marvellously instinctive acting job, and the peak of this performance.

Peter Mullan plays (again) the brutal father and Chris witnesses her brother Will played by the fully grown Jack Greenlees and is full on and over directed to deliver a plain point.

There is a feeling of socialism crossing into this communities resurgence and a change of outlook which is necessitated by the outbreak of war and it’s loss of young men who otherwise might have driven, (the other choice being to leave for the big cities) a formula for rural survival with modern ideas. Kier Hardie after all had evoked Scottish passions previously.

Conclusion. ####4
This is a harrowing very thought provoking and surprisingly contempory tale given the changes afoot in Scotland, the clamouring to war and the aspirational conflicts with our spiritual selves. Religion, politics, sovereignty is challenged, patriarchal angst is very damaging and male female equality alongside mental health are foremost among the subjects provoking response. It is a very diligent we’ll rounded film which is delivered with pace belying its 2 hour 11 mins thereabouts length. It is definitely worth viewing and is as robust a film made in G.B. This year as you are likely to find.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s