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New Release Review - SUNSET SONG

A teenager takes over her family farm following the death of her parents.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Terence Davies

Starring: Agyness Deyn, Peter Mullan, Kevin Guthrie


A 1930s critic might call Sunset Song a handsomely mounted woman's picture, and it's certainly hard to find fault with the movie on a technical level. There's just not a whole to sink your teeth into here. In 1932 Gibbon's novel may have seemed fresh, but in 2015 Davies' film is all too lacking in originality and substance.




If you've ever watched any BBC documentaries on the subject of classic British cinema, you'll likely have encountered the talking head of filmmaker Terence Davies rabbiting on enthusiastically about his love of well regarded auteurs and forgotten hacks with equal passion. In a way he's the UK's Todd Haynes, a filmmaker obsessed with cinema's past, one who seems to care little for modern standards and techniques. Unfortunately, Davies is one of those filmmakers - like Tarantino, Eli Roth and Peter Bogdanovich - whose passion and knowledge of cinema never quite translates to his own work.
His latest offering is no different, well intentioned but sadly misfiring. Davies has adapted, both as writer and director, author Lewis Grassic Gibbon's 1932 novel of rural Scottish life Sunset Song. The novel and now the film tell the story of Chris Guthrie, here played by former model Agyness Deyn. As a teenager, Chris finds herself entrusted with the upkeep of the family farm when her parents pass away. She meets and falls for a young local man (Kevin Guthrie), before the onset of World War One throws a spanner in the works.
Had Gibbon's novel been adapted in the decade of its publication, it's difficult to imagine the script would be a whole lot different to the one fashioned by Davies, and his visuals remind us of John Ford's Celtic movies How Green Was My Valley and The Quiet Man. He employs a nice simple trick of cheating time through circular pans, and his framing of the landscape is impeccable. Scotland has rarely looked so good, but that's probably because it's actually the countryside of New Zealand we're seeing onscreen.
Deyn is outstanding in the lead role, and along with Carla Delevingne she's putting to bed the old cliché that tells us models can't act. Her character just isn't very interesting, one of those emotional punchbags that overwrought melodramas love so much. There's not much of a narrative, more a series of trials for our heroine to face. It's the sort of movie where 10 minutes in you can already tell at some point the lead character will receive a letter bearing bad news from a far off battlefield.
A 1930s critic might call Sunset Song a handsomely mounted woman's picture, and it's certainly hard to find fault with the picture...sorry, the movie on a technical level. There's just not a whole to sink your teeth into here. In 1932 Gibbon's novel may have seemed fresh, but in 2015 Davies' film is all too lacking in originality and substance.
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