Terence Davies is a brilliant director who specializes in period pieces, dimly lit interiors and fraught family dramas, and it's great that almost all of his films are available for streaming. Unlike "A Quiet Passion," an audacious reimagining of the life of Emily Dickinson, "Sunset Song" is a pretty straightforward adaptation of a classic novel, though not without some distinctive personal touches.
Davies took some heat in the UK for casting a flawless former model (an English one at that) as a rugged Scottish farm girl, but Agyness Deyn acquits herself very well in the role of Chris Guthrie. If he does have a fault though, it's that he seems to think of plot and character as necessary evils, to be dealt with as briskly as possible so he can linger over the atmospherics--the grittiness of daily life, tense family meals and boisterous communal feasts, the beauty of "the lond" (mostly shimmering fields of wheat shot in 65 mm).
If I remember the BBC series from the 70s correctly, Chris's father, John, who dominates the first half of the film, was a more complex personality, a conscience-stricken Calvinist who can't stay away from his wife even after a nearly fatal pregnancy, like an earthier version of a Dreyer or Bergman character. Davies presents him simply as a sex-crazed ogre, which makes Peter Mullan ("Top of the Lake") the obvious casting choice.
Later on, the film's dramatic climax is handled a bit awkwardly: Chris's husband, Euan, and his friends, all neighboring farmers, are shamed by the community into joining up when war breaks out with Germany in 1914-we get to hear the minister sermonizing that "the mon they call the kaiserrr is none other than the Antichrrrist!" We aren't at all prepared for Euan's transformation from a dutiful, loving husband to a randy, foul-tempered bully when he returns for his first leave-a less godfearing replica of the unlamented John Guthrie. A flashback that tells the rest of Euan's story, narrated by one of his comrades at the front, is even harder to reconcile with what's gone before. I'm tempted to watch again to get a firmer grasp; that's the beauty of Netflix
Having said all that, I still recommend the film. It's by no means Davies's best, but Chris's story is well told, with exceptions noted, and cinematographer Michael McDonough ("Winter's Bone") does an amazing job of realizing Davies's vision of "the power and cruelty of both family and nature."
Spanning the 1910 decade, six years in the life of a girl named Chris, one of the numerous children of a tyrannical Scottish farmer. Years of high hopes and of disillusionment, of mirth and sorrow, of dreaming and toiling, of sweetness and violence, of love and hate, of peace and war. And in the end, the dignified loneliness of a new Chris, a woman who seems to have gone through several lives, now and forever as one with the land, the earth eternal...
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April 06, 2016 at 06:20 AM