Supermodel turned actress Agyness Deyn (Electricity) plays Chris, a teenager growing up in a small rural Scottish community during the period just preceding and following the First World War. Coming of age under the harsh dogma of her unforgiving father, Chris learns firsthand the devastation that first dysfunctional family – and later, war – wreak on domestic life.
What follows is a melodrama of love, loss and deterioration that lacks the subtlety or depth of Gibbon's novel. The snapshot scenes, characteristic of Davies direction, are somewhat jumbled, and the film suffers from attempting too much as it presses on without thematic consistency. Davies fails to afford characters or plot enough space to develop, instead landing us in the midst of an already unravelling domestic turmoil, where even the deaths of main characters fail to be truly affecting.
Peter Mullan’s vivid portrayal of a father whose aggressive regime tears his family apart is chilling, though he comes across more as one-dimensional caricature than fully developed figure. Despite strong performances from its cast, the first half of Sunset Song is unrelentingly bleak, beating to the rhythm of flogging, gun-shots and loaded silences, broken only by the creaks and horrible grunts of forced lovemaking. The coming-of-age narrative is somewhat contrived, the pointedly symbolic scenes of self realisation as Chris looks at herself in the mirror and the strangely distant third person narration don't really work as motifs.
The film is strongest in its second half, as Chris is finally set free to embrace the playful independence of Gibbon's original character, and Deyn plays this excellently. If the marriage to Ewan (Kevin Guthrie) seems out-of-the-blue, the consistent tenderness between the actors thereafter makes up for it: they are all youthful excitement, gentleness and laughter. But the reprieve from melodrama is short-lived and it takes over again as Ewan joins the long list of loved ones stolen away from Chris when he enlists in the war. His return with a demeanour all too reminiscent of Chris' violent father is, however, one of Davies’ most successful comparisons and retrospective nods.
Davies’ adaptation of Sunset Song is saved by its stunning cinematography and soundtrack, both of which manage to create a sense the stunning beauty of Scottish landscapes. Davies' film becomes a harrowing tale of devastation, in which the lands really are all that endure: unforgiving like the war, but far more beautiful. For those familiar with Gibbon's novel, Sunset Song may be worth a watch, but be prepared for a traumatic ride.
|What||Sunset Song film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
04 Dec 15 – 04 Jan 16, various times
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here to go the film's IMDB page|