A young woman’s endurance against the hardships of rural Scottish life, based on the novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, told with gritty poetic realism by Britain’s greatest living auteur. The film takes place during the early years of the twentieth century, with the conflicts and choices a young woman experiences reflecting the struggle between tradition and change; a struggle that continues to resonate today.
No one does long-suffering heartbreak like the Scots, and this coming of age drama is a beautiful and brutal tearjerker of the highest order.
It’s taken British writer /director Terence Davies 18 years to get this classic Scottish novel to screen – Kirsten Dunst was considered for the lead at one stage – and his perseverance pays off. His in-depth knowledge of the source material gives the film a very literary feel with distinct chapters in her life opening and closing. If you’re expecting a three-act film you might find the episodic structure a little frustrating at times. But Davies runs an assured hand, having already delivered other successful strong female-centric adaptations - The House of Mirth with Gillian Anderson and Rachel Weisz earned a Golden Globe nom for The Deep Blue Sea.
But it’s the performances that makes Sunset Song sing. Our central Scottish lass is played by newcomer Agyness Deyn, and the runway star is a revelation. Her conviction is infectious as she faces her character’s life struggles, holding her own against Scottish acting legends like Peter Mullan (who’s just gripping as the sadistic father). It’s up to Kevin Guthrie as her love interest to try and tame the flame and he puts in a raw performance, backing up great lead turns in Proclaimers musical Sunshine on Leith and the whiskey-infused The Angel’s Share.
And if you thought it would take a trip to the Scottish highlands to experience the stunning landscapes guess again, book a flight to Christchurch as that’s where Davies spent three weeks filming to avoid Scotland’s miserable rain. It’s a beautiful thing to look at thanks to sweeping cinematography from Michael McDonough (Winter’s Bone) and to listen to as well, with the haunting traditional ballads sending shivers up your spine.
This literary adaptation might be too episodic and unflinching for some, but Terence Davies assured hand - and some stellar performances - makes this beautiful and brutal tale sing.
DVD Releases: 8th March 2017
Rating: M – Contains Sexual violence, sex scenes & nudity
Duration: 135 minutes
Starring: Agyness Deyn, Peter Mullan, Ian Pirie, Kevin Guthrie
Director: Terence Davies (the Deep Blue Sea, The Neon Bible)
The exterior shots were shot on 70mm film while the interiors were captured on digital cameras.
The pipes played by the piper, James A. Adamson, in the closing scene were acquired from the Caledonian Society Of Uganda and were made at the turn of the century by "Glens" of Edinburgh and are therefore absolutely in keeping with the period. They were picked up after a recent visit to Uganda to play at a Burns Supper. Further trivia - the piper also took part in the BBC adaptation of Sunset Song (1971) as a young boy as an extra in one of the Arbuthnott Church scenes.
Agyness Deyn's character, as well as her family, has the surname "Guthrie". The actor playing Ewan Tavendale, her eventual husband is named Kevin Guthrie in reality.