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  Sunset Song The Lie Of The LandBuy this film here.
Year: 2015
Director: Terence Davies
Stars: Agyness Deyn, Peter Mullan, Kevin Guthrie, Jack Greenlees, Daniela Nardini, Ian Pirie, James Michie, Hugh Ross, Niall Grieg Fulton, Douglas Rankine, Jim Sweeney, Ken Blackburn, Julian Nest, Linda Duncan McLaughlin, Trish Mullin, Tom Duncan
Genre: Drama
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Rural North-East Scotland in the early 1900s, and Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn) lives on an isolated farm with her older brother Will (Jack Greenlees), her father (Peter Mullan) and mother (Daniela Nardini), plus two younger brothers, where life is hard and made all the tougher by her father who bullies and beats his family into submission to his strict idea of how they should behave. Therefore no taking the Lord’s name in vain – that will get you a whipping with his belt – and definitely no standing up to him, what he says goes, no arguments. Chris is finding this difficult to deal with, especially when he insists on making his wife pregnant once again even though she is just not up to the task, and Will is keen to leave…

Sunset Song is the first in a classic trilogy of novels by the shortlived author Lewis Grassic Gibbon, often held up as some of the finest literature Scotland ever produced, and had been adapted for television in a very well thought of BBC version in 1972. BBC Scotland was involved in this later variation as well, but the real guiding hand behind it belonged to director Terence Davies, who counted the book among his very favourites and given his love for the material would have been expected to deliver a faithful, respectful and in light of his previous films’ pictorial qualities, a handsome to look at production. Alas, when it was released after decades in the planning, not everyone was impressed.

It was the same old story, the fans of the book, who were numerous, felt he had left important bits out, added bits that were unnecessary, and missed the point of the text, but if you had never read the source, would you be any better disposed towards it? That may have depended on where you were from, because if you were Scottish, there was a major sticking point: the accents. The cast were mostly made up of West of Scotland intonations rather than those from the North East of the country, and that did make a difference, imagine a drama set in London where everyone spoke like Geordies and you’d see the issue, but more blatant than that was the delivery of star Deyn, who sounded Scottish by way of Northern Ireland and Liverpool.

Not helping was her often glaikit expression, leaving the sense less of a rich inner life for Chris than one where she was simply buffeted along by events she was barely awake to; fair enough, any Scottish accent can be tricky, some Scots haven’t even mastered it, but that didn’t excuse her performance which was stilted in a manner that suggested she was concentrating on following Davies’ directions rather than offering a naturalistic reading of the role that was particularly necessary. When the unfolding misery of Chris’s life, at least in this depiction, was hamstrung by a weirdly passive styling, it tended to throw the rest of the film out of whack as you were more often than not caught up in the miscasting, which was a curious one – a few would ask if there hadn’t been a decent Scottish actress who could have taken the lead.

On the positive side, Davies knew his way around a camera, though why he thought travelling to New Zealand to secure most picturesque shots was vital was a mystery of sorts when there was plenty of apt landscape in Caledonia – maybe he couldn’t be bothered CGI-ing out the pylons and windfarms in post-production? But this did remain very good to look at, with its all-encompassing sense of the power and endurance of the land above all, it was just the people on it that were the problem. Mullan played a character not far removed from the brutal fathers in the director’s early works, and indeed his own life, so that you perceived was an attraction for him, and Kevin Guthrie was effective as the nice guy Chris marries only to see his personality warped out of all recognition by The Great War, though this did mean more dejection heaped on her in a manner that no amount of rhapsodising about her surroundings was going to prevent coming across as relentless to the point of deadening. It was patently the film Davies wanted to make, and that made it disappointing.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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