In association with the Grosvenor
Before and after the showing of Sunset Song, conversation in the foyer of the Grosvenor focused on the book upon which the film is based: the narrative, the characters, the faithfulness of the film. Having never read the novel (which is regarded as one of the most important texts in Scottish literature) and knowing only its reputation for provoking either love or loathing, the quietness and subtlety of the film surprised me: the punctuating moments of violence even more visceral in the context of such serenity.
Directed by Terence Davies, Sunset Song tells the story of Chris Guthrie, a young woman from a dysfunctional farming family in Aberdeenshire. Played by former model Agyness Deyn, Chris is initially torn between education and the rural life that her family has always led. The lush, verdant hills and endless sweeping green that surround the unimpressive façade of Blawearie, Chris’ home, are hardly ever shown. This is a remarkable decision considering Chris’ often-referenced enduring love of the Scottish countryside but it is one that ultimately serves to reinforce the private, contemplative nature of Chris’ experiences and her entrapment both socially and geographically. The majority of the action occurs in interior spaces, mirroring Chris’s own life, a rather depressing metaphor in view of the repression and sadness that characterises the family. The third person voiceovers, a curiously literary device, are sometimes jarring and achieve more ‘telling’ than ‘showing’ but are still thought-provoking nevertheless, precisely because of the divide between her inner feelings and her outward life.
Throughout the film, it is difficult to precisely place the historical setting: timeless and evocative, the intrusion of the First World War is the only real indication of an outside world that exists beyond the lure of the land and pervasive Scottish tradition; the first real imposition of modernity. Sunset Song is alternately dreamy and lyrical, harsh and obtrusive – and at times quite hard to make out, but Deyn shines in her portrayal of Chris, her inner anguish or sublime happiness eloquently expressed with eyes brimming with tears or a discreet smile.