After exploring the intricacies of human connection in The Deep Blue Sea, Terence Davies is back with another emotionally rich journey. Similar to the picturesque shot of its protagonist emerging from the dense wheat field, as if being born by nature, Sunset Song is an exploration of a young woman’s coming of age in the early 1900s.
Adapting Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Scottish novel of the same name, Sunset Song follows Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn) as she struggles to cope with life in the fictional town of Kinraddie. Living in a household where her tyrannical father (Peter Mullan) repeatedly impregnates her increasingly unstable mother (Daniela Nardini), and finds any excuse to beat her older brother Will (Jack Greenlees), Chris’ world is consumed with hardships. Things only get tougher when tragedy rains down on the family, dividing them to the point where Chris is left to assume the responsibilities of the household.
As the seasons change, Chris evolves from dutiful daughter to a confident young woman. One who embraces her independence, and even falls in love for the first time with a charming local farmer, Ewan Tavendale (Kevin Guthrie). However, even within times of joy, she cannot escape the cloud of misery that seems to follow her. Unbeknownst to Chris, the First World War lurks around the corner, ready to send her life in a spiral once again.
A visually captivating film, Michael McDonough’s cinematography brings a poetic beauty to the piece, as if an angel is shining light through the grime, Sunset Song methodically extracts every last drop of emotion. Davies takes the audience through the highs and lows of Chris’ life, pausing long enough to ensure that each moment lingers in the mind. He holds the viewer down in the mud until we are gasping for air similar to the metaphorical way Chris does. Her independence feels like our moment of freedom as well.
Part of the credit for achieving that goes to the engrossing nature of Agyness Deyn’s work as Chris. Deyn gives one of the year’s best performances, managing to keep the emotion at a consistent level even when the film’s overall rhythm becomes its undoing. While an interesting tale, Sunset Songs’ languid pacing is simply to jarring to ignore. Letting the camera linger on scenes like a guest who has overstayed his welcome, the overall impact is sometimes lost.
By the end, it is hard not to feel slightly disappointed by Sunset Song. All the elements are there for a truly knockout film, however, its indulgent pacing ultimately overshadows the beautiful imagery and rich emotion Davies constructs.
Sunset Song opens at the Cineplex Odeon Varsity and VIP Cinemas tomorrow before expanding across Canada later in May and June.