It took British director and screenwriter Terence Davies 18 years to bring this adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon's novel to life. To show my appreciation, I've seen the film twice; and it's just as brutally devastating and moving second time around.
Sunset Song is a gorgeous slice of poetic realism which is as cruel and harsh as it is beautiful and lyrical. Set on the eve of World War I, it captures the dawning of a new era through the coming of age of Scottish lass Chris Guthrie (Deyn), who's torn between her love of the land and life at home on the farm, and the opportunity to head to the city and become a teacher.
It's clear from the minute we meet Chris that she's emotionally and intellectually engaged with life and full of passion, despite her family being dominated by a tyrannical father, played by Peter Mullan, in typical good form. However, life is harsh on the land, and a series of devastating events bind Chris to the role of diligent daughter at home.
To be honest, it's all rather miserable to this point, but there's much more to this film than the grim narrative. Cinematographer Michael McDonough's (Winter's Bone) stunning expansive landscapes take us through the seasons, and juxtapose nicely with the austere and dark interiors of Chris' farmhouse where shafts of light through windows and authentic set design create a painterly feel.
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Director Davies also creates a wonderful sense of time and place, through the use of folk music and a script filled with traditional language of the time. Collectively, this makes the slow burning first act an absorbing one.
There's an injection of joy when Chris meets and falls in love with her brother's friend, Ewan (Guthrie). With his youth and energy, Guthrie brings the film to life and their sweet romance lifts the mood. That is, until their lives are torn apart by the beginning of the Great War.
It's likely eyebrows were raised when model Agyness Deyn won this coveted role, but her look suits this early 20th century period. More notably, she also nails Chris' early passion and innocence, and her angst and pain as the story progresses.
This is a film about endurance; as the film draws to a close, Chris comments that "only the land endures", but there's a feeling that she will manage this as well. It's this glimmer of hope that will send you home wiping tears away and contemplating this drama for days to come.
Verdict: A moving and intimate coming of age drama.
Cast: Agyness Deyn, Peter Mullan, Kevin Guthrie
Director: Terence Davies
Running Time: 136 mins
Rating: M (Sexual violence, sex scenes, nudity)