Sunset Song (2015) Poster


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Wedding dinner by candlelight, mist, the morning sun, . . .
Raven-196922 April 2016
Firelight, swells of the North Sea, hayfields, rain, a wedding dinner by candlelight, mist, the morning sun, green mountains, Scottish song, clothing fashions from a hundred years ago and the writing of Lewis Grassic Gibbon, are brought to life. It is said that nothing but the land endures, yet there is something about each of these characters – good and bad - that endures too. Intriguing characters include a sensual, pretty and bright young woman who loves the landscape and dreams of a better life, a strict and abusive farm family patriarch in desperate need of an intervention and anger management classes, and a young man turned bitter and cowardly by war and violence. The story is told mostly through the eyes of the young woman, Chris, as she grows and experiences hardships as well as bliss. It is amazing to witness her transformations through the people she comes in contact with, the land and the emotions she feels. Kindness, love, nature and light endure when we let them. Anger, violence and hatred make them the lovelier for that.

The director is obviously extremely experienced and capable at such historic United Kingdom stories. He invigorates the senses in sight and sound, and we even almost feel the emotions of the characters and smell the hay, mist and mud. I suppose this is the "memory realism" style I read about. Remarkably, and appropriately to the themes of the story, Davies does not shy away from the rawness of anger, sex, nudity and violence. He is equally adept at bringing out the beauty of the story as well as its darkness. There is exemplary acting here especially by the leads, yet with the exception of the one who played Ewan (each of his moods seemed the same to me). For those few who can differentiate between the sectors of Scotland, the film takes place in Northeast Scotland. The excitement of another "Florida premiere" was palpable (LOL!) at this 2016 Miami International Film Festival screening.
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Scottish girl weds farm boy and loses him to the savagery of war
maurice_yacowar6 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Terence Davies's new film treads familiar grounds despite his shift to the early 1900s Highlands. A violent father is brutally insensitive to his oldest son and daughter — and to his wife, who kills herself and her infant twins when she finds he has impregnated her again.

The son weds and removes himself to Argentina but we follow the daughter, Chris, as she takes over the farm and matures into motherhood and womanhood.

The mother's most poignant speech teaches Chris that women are helpless before men. By men the mother has in mind brutes like her husband, not gentle idealists like her oldest son. And like Ewan, the farm boy neighbour Chris weds and loves.

The film's leisurely 135 minutes observes the passing of the days and seasons and vicissitudes of life working up to a crucial revelation at the end. Now a father, Ewan is pressured to enlist in the First World War. He comes down the stairs and announces he's off to Aberdeen the way her brother did when he broke away from home. But Ewan was reluctant to leave his wife and bairn.

We don't see Ewan's battleground experiences but we see how they've changed him when he storms home for a short leave. Coarse, violent, angry, insulting — he has turned into an irreligious version of her happily departed father. Unlike her mother, though, Chris won't be cowed. The morning after he's raped her she holds him off with a knife: "I'm not afraid of you." He returns coldly to his unit.

Chris continues to run the farm without him. She refuses to believe the government letter reporting he died in battle in France. Then his old comrade tells her she should know the truth: Ewan was shot as a coward and deserter. He's telling her because he wants her to get on with her young life.

Then we get the film's only flashback. That friend is preparing Ewan to face the firing squad. The Ewan we see is the old Ewan, not the brutalized soldier who was so repulsive on his visit home. Finally believing he's dead, Chris realizes that "He did it for me."

That line — and the intrusive flashback — takes some unpacking. Ewan couldn't stay out of the war for her, however he tried, as he was openly charged with cowardice. Nor could he prevent the war's brutalizing effect on him. So to save her from having to live with the brute he has become he has himself killed. As we view the firing squad from his perspective Davies implicates the citizenry in the savagery that launches and embraces warfare.

Not sharing her mother's cynical experience of men, Chris remembers the Ewan she loved, the gentle, considerate man. So she infers that he had himself killed rather then impose on her what the war had made him. That's the song she sings to his sunset.
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This is NOT the average film
colin-546316 January 2016
I feel pity for those who have negatively reviewed this film from the point of where some of the scenic shots were or criticised the dialogue etc. I had heard the book read and the story acted on radio more than once in the past so much was familiar. I saw this in the Screen Machine (a mobile cinema which tours the Scottish Highlands and Islands). It was almost full with perhaps 75-80 there and I knew most of them so could judge their reactions and join in the conversation on the way out. For 2+ hours no-one moved - not even the handful of folk from the supposed area in Aberdeen-shire. Afterwards most felt like I did - emotionally drained. Sunset Song is not about the scenery, nor whether there were details that one or another felt weren't quite right. This was a reality check in the way in which poor country folk lived in the early part of the 20th century. It was about treating women as chattels and while I could have imagined or read about that, this was so graphic it was breathtaking. It wasn't Downton Abbey; it wasn't a Bond film but it was visually stunning and completely thought-provoking. I can't imagine anyone with a soul not being left with both a feeling of privilege to have seen it and humility that our own kin in the past lived this way. As for Agyness Deyn - amazing. Of course the accent wasn't flawless but it didn't matter. This was a brilliant and sensitive performance.
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Bitterly disappointed
iainthepict6 December 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I was so looking forward to seeing this movie after becoming aware that it was being filmed, and the expectation was only heightened after filming was complete. Time seemed to drag until at last, there was a release date. Patience is a virtue. Maybe I should have used the time to re-read the book. Maybe my memories of the book are false memories. Whatever. The overriding impression I was left with after watching this move was disappointment. I felt as if somehow I'd been let down. I really wanted to be able to add this film to my top-10 list of favourite movies, because the book is probably the best Scottish novel of all time (so far, and in my humble), but this movie won't make my top-20 (even 50). The story contains several sad and tragic moments, but overall, the book is uplifting and inspiring, and amusing in lots of places. Unfortunately, apart from (some of) the sad parts, the film fails to do the book justice. It tries to lift itself out of the gloom, with a stirring score (see below) and voice-overs (which may be quotes from the book, but are more likely paraphrased extracts), but is unable to do so. I found it dreary and boring, and considered walking out at one point. My love for the book kept me in my seat. Interestingly, I was one of only seven people in the audience, on the second night of showing, in a major UK city. I found that depressing, although that's probably a reflection of the public's awareness, rather than the film's reputation (at this early stage, it has no reputation, but I'm afraid it will never have one). I don't know if this is in line for any nominations, but if there's one for the most eagerly awaited film that disappoints (sub-category: an ex-pat Teuchter from near Kinraddie) the most, here's the Oscar, already. Maybe this is one book that just can't be filmed. Having said that, I remember the BBC TV series being quite good, but that is hours and hours of viewing. So even 135 minutes isn't enough to do the book justice. *Spoiler alert: nothing to do with the plot, just detail pertaining to what should've been authentically or realistically presented, or more supportive of the 'Scottish-ness' of the film.* Apart from my general disillusionment, there were a two or three picky things that stood out for me. You'll have seen this in the trailer; the scene where the villagers stroll through the corn field on their way to the kirk. No folk from a farming community would ever walk on masse through a field of corn, barley or whatever, tramping it down (as they must). That would be almost sacrilege. Artistic licence maybe? But it adds nothing to the scene. And what's with all the screaming? It's fairly clear that nobody involved with the film has ever attended a birth. Those parts were embarrassingly bad. In addition, I felt the score was poor and even intrusive at times, where it failed to convey the emotion of the scene it accompanied, on several occasions. Furthermore, it wasn't noticeably Scottish (should it have been?), apart from the wedding scene. I guess there's a fine line between corny Scottish-ness for the sake of it (like say, in Brigadoon, for example) and Scottish-flavoured music that's sympathetic to the movie. That balance wasn't struck at all, because it erred on the side of neither option, avoiding anything (that seemed to me) overtly Scottish. And that rendition of Auld Lang Syne - do me a favour! Nobody, but nobody in Scotland ever sings "For the sake of auld lang syne." That's an Anglicisation that I've heard lots of times, but isn't even an acceptable translation from Burns' scotch vernacular. Quite apart from being an invented lyric (check it out on, it's just wrong. "We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, For auld lang syne" – it means, for old times sake. That's a real blooper, especially when many of the cast are Scots. The best parts of the film include some of the landscape shots, where the land (Scotland or New Zealand), and rightly so as it's a feature of the book, gets a deserved prominence. But the voice-overs may not be necessary. Often, less is more. Here's it's sometimes too much. I know we have to get inside Chris' mind, but if you can't do that with visuals and dialogue (it's a movie, not a documentary), why bother making the film at all. That's my opinion. Here's my tip, see the film by all means, but make sure you read the book.
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I like it
wbotanica7 April 2016
I went into the movie not knowing anything about the book, the model or what should have been the proper soldiers dress. I also don't know a good accent from a bad one when it comes to Scottish.

I felt the movie was gorgeous but some scenes were dragged out too long, especially closer to the end. I felt the actress was believable and saw the characters personality was much like the film itself, slow moving and deliberate with few outbursts but when they happened they were believable.

I didn't understand the husband. Why not slog through it rather than become an a-hole? but I guess he was determined. To me this was stupid and the wife should have been angry, then forgiving, rather than understanding.

The story was a view into what it may have been like back then helping me to see real people in real tough situations but who also had God and nature to nurture them.

It is the beauty of the film that has stuck with me. I didn't know Scotland was that gorgeous.
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Falls short of being a truly powerful experience
howard.schumann26 June 2016
The father of former San Francisco Mayor Jack Shelley once told him, "The day you forget where you came from, you won't belong where you are." This advice is not lost on Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn, "Clash of the Titans"), a young woman coming of age in Terence Davies' ("The Deep Blue Sea") Sunset Song. Adapted from the 1932 novel of Lewis Grassic Gibbon and set in Scotland in the early 1900s, the film is more than a song of sunset, it is a symphony of the fields and lakes and distant mountains of Aberdeenshire and a young woman devoted to the land, harvesting the wheat, lying in the sun, wrapping herself in "the old star-eaten blanket of the sky." Talking of herself in voice-over, she says, "Nothing endured but the land. Sea, sky and the folk who lived there were but a breath. But the land endured…she was the land."

The gorgeous painterly views photographed by cinematographer Michael McDonough ("Winter's Bone"), however, does not conceal the isolation felt by those coming up against a system that ostracizes anyone standing against the town's social and religious conformity. Women especially are at a disadvantage. They have to endure sex without contraception, painful and often fatal childbirth, and marital beatings and rapes that are considered part of the marriage vow, "for better or worse." The film traces Chris' growth from an intelligent but passive student to an adult both willing and able to stand up for herself. At first she is seen in school where she is admired for her excellent French pronunciation.

At home things are different, however. The Guthrie farm is run by the patriarch, John (Peter Mullan, "Tyrannosaur"), a sadistic bully who beats his son Will (Jack Greenlees) for minor infractions such as naming his horse "Jehovah," and forces his wife Jean (Daniela Nardini) into repeated pregnancies. Both Will and Jean find a way out in vastly different ways, but Chris, having given up any hopes of becoming a teacher, endures her brutal father until he is felled by a stroke. Fortunately, her paternal aunt Janet (Linda Duncan McLaughlin) and Uncle Tam (Ron Donachie, "Filth") arrive to take her younger brothers back to raise in Aberdeen but Chris carries on at Blawearie, running the farm herself.

As Ma Joad said in "The Grapes of Wrath," "With a woman, it's all in one flow, like a stream - little eddies and waterfalls - but the river, it goes right on." Like the strong-willed Bathsheba of Hardy's "Far From the Madding Crowd," Chris never succumbs to her mother's cynicism about men, falling in love with and marrying a local farmer Ewan Tavendale (Kevin Guthrie). The scenes where the Ewan and Chris find happiness in marriage and childbirth are the most joyous of the film, especially when Chris sings "The Flowers of the Forest" at their wedding, but, there are signs that it cannot last. When World War I is declared, anyone who doesn't enlist is labeled a coward, accused of refusing to fight for God, King, and country.

Succumbing to threats from Reverend Gibbon (Jack Bonnar), Ewan enlists but the war will change him forever and make him unrecognizable to those who are closest to him. Chris bears her fate in poetic terms, saying, "There are lovely things in the world, lovely, that do not endure, and they're lovelier for that," but her positive feelings soon turn to denial. Sunset Song is a beautiful film and a tribute to those who have the courage and patience to endure pain. Though there are many moments when we know that we are in the hands of a master but the film, in spite of its physical beauty and compelling message, never reaches the emotional depth necessary for a truly powerful experience and the haunting music of a bagpipe at the end only suggests the great film it might have been.
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A journey from the girlhood to womanhood.
Reno-Rangan24 June 2016
An amazing drama about the life, especially it reveals what it would be like being a woman farmer living in the early decade of the twentieth century. The film was adapted from the book of the same name that's dealt with the rural Scottland subject. Even though I'm not familiar with the original material I would say it was one of the best novel-to-screen translation I have seen. The long runtime has never been the issue, but slowly, solidly told tale. My only disappointment is that it was not in the Scottish language since it was about a Scottish family.

There were many Scottish dialects that I did not get at first, so I had to google them to know the meaning. But I liked it which reveals the true nature of the local culture. I meant it essential to narrate a tale in the native flavour to enhance the richness in its contents. The story sets in the 1910s that centres on a farm girl named Chris. An epic life journey from the girlhood to womanhood. Under her atrocious father, the film tells how the whole family was living in the fear. After a death in the house, the event slowly begins to tear the family apart, leaving Chris behind to take the ultimate decisions about her future and the family land.

Anybody would definitely feel bored in the initiation part, because you won't understand the story right away. If you manage to survive in the first half, then you can easily get through in the remaining by liking it a lot. It was nothing like we know the story or we don't, it was simply about the twist and turns of somebody's life just like ours, except it was from a different timeline. Precisely to say the phases of life is what this film is all about. Like shifting the gear in the car, according to the condition of the road and the destination. The joy and sorrow are the part of the life which is sometimes depends on the decision we and around us make.

"You will need to face men for yourself. When the time comes, there's no one can stand and help."

It was totally an unexpected film, kind of reminded me 'Gone with the Wind' and 'Love Comes Softly'. Focused mainly on a woman, in the men dominated world. It was not just a rural theme, but also sometimes takes us beyond to other topics. Like during the first world war and under the English dominated UK, how the Scots lost the rights and their culture disappeared. No doubt why Scots are asking for their own nation.

The romance was another turning point in the story, like raising strong from the fall. After seeing lots of similar changes, I was unable to predict what conclusion may come. But it was strong and intentional with some wonderful dialogues. I loved the beautiful landscapes from the different seasons. It was actually shot in the New Zealand, Scottland and Luxembarough. There's no expansion in the locations, mainly it sets in and around a farmhouse and very occasionally other than these parts.

The one in the Chris' shoe was amazing. Like usual, Peter Mullan was fantastic and similarly others as well in their short stay. As the story progress, consequently the film characters reshuffled. Even for us, the main character Chris is like crossing through a juncture from the coming-of-age to self- discovery. Displaying the transformation of Chris from a certain period of time was the film's great achievement. Like how a landscape change from the dawn to dust, this woman's life sees the same fate. That's what the title implies.

I don't know this British director, but this film opened a new door to me further to check it out his other works. I don't know either that everybody would like it, but it is really one of the wonderful drama of the 2015 and I recommend it to all, especially if there's no problem for you for a long story told in the slow pace. I hope they make films out of the remaining two books as well.

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Tedious, and an affront to Scots and Scotland
f-odds-123 December 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I'm an Englishman living in Aberdeenshire, close to the supposed setting of this film. I have not read the Grassic Gibbon novel on which the film is based. I am very used to hearing the local (Doric) accent. Throughout, the film LOOKS magnificent — a tribute to its cinematographer, Michael McDonough — but there the praise has to end. The plot is a relentless succession of downbeat events, most of them hackneyed clichés, directed with a self-indulgent, self-important style that results in every scene taking five times longer than necessary to play. We have the brutal father who gets his comeuppance, to nobody's surprise; the long-suffering mother who can finally take it no more; the young girl experiencing the first pangs of her sexuality; the young father having to go to fight in World War I, and more. I'm sure these were all part of the original novel, and were probably fresh for their time, but their sheer predictability make the over-longeurs irritating. For Scottish viewers, the film may give a boost to the current drives for independence. Others on this site have picked up on the inaccuracies (I had the English 'For THE SAKE OF auld lang syne driven out of me years ago'). But the fact that some of the film was shot as far away as New Zealand to produce views of 'authentic Scottish scenery' feels an unnecessary step too far, considering the way Scots regard the views of their native land as one of the major attractions of this part of the world. The film is all about the character Chris Guthrie, played by Agyness Deyn. To borrow an old cliché (it seems appropriate) this actress covers the gamut from A to B. She has two facial expressions, plus tears, and gives no sense of comprehending her role from within. Each movement and gesture looks as if it has been explained to her by the director: her total lack of spontaneity is the prime reason for non-suspension of disbelief. Her attempt at a local accent is abysmal. One lighter note: obstetricians will be delighted to learn that an on-screen birth in the olde tymes depicted still involves calls for bowls of hot water, a doctor with bloodied arms and a view of the overwrought father listening to screams from the bedroom above. The screams stop abruptly, to be replaced by the cry of a neonate. Haven't seen this one for some years, so it's great to know the protocol is still with us.
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A lovely, sad, gay film
wgingery19 June 2016
Warning: Spoilers
If you're looking for "Masterpiece Theatre," keep going. This isn't that. Read the book or get the TV adaptation.

This is a deeply personal testament from a gay director, re-visiting themes from his previous films: coming of age subject to a tyrannical father, the long-suffering mother, the opposition of local life and the wider world, the joy and tragedy of love.

Again like all his films, it works at an almost subconscious, dreamlike level, beyond the rational or sociologically descriptive.

At one point, Chrissie tells us that words, English words, are useless to express anything worth expressing.

At age 70, the director is evidently fully prepared to cut his cloth to suit his needs. And here he has at his disposal some very fine stuff: book, actors, photographer, and music. While not entirely seamless, it nevertheless produces a powerful cumulative effect.

The actress Agyness Deyn (pronounced Agnes Deen) gives a wonderful performance, even admitting a few places where she comes up short of the full expression of her character, Chrissie, the director's stand-in of the story.

Peter Mullan, Kieth Guthrie, and Jack Greenlees are never less than fine. The waste of men -- beautiful and young, brutalized before escaping to the Argentine, or sent off to die in the war -- strikes like a punch in the guts.

Davies places these people firmly in the life of the soil of Scotland with photography at times ravishingly sensuous and at other times dour and somber.

Pay close attention to the music: as in all Terence Davies' films, it plays a vital part in taking us to "the place beyond words."

Oddly, perhaps, it is in the depiction of sex that Davies falls short. It comes across as clinically observed, rather than experienced.

It adds up to one of those films that stay with you. . . .for instance, the diagonal lines of welts on Greenlees' back are repeated in the diagonal lines of the burning whins (the straw left in the fields after the harvest), suggesting that he and the land are alike brutalized, and that violence is a necessary, inescapable component of life.
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Disjointed and dislocated
languidMandala10 January 2016
I suspect this movie will review better the further away from its location you go. If you live close by you'll despise it, if you live in Scotland you'll hate it. It probably gets better as you go further away.

The problem is that it's just not Scottish in any sense at all. This is especially true in the wedding scene which is so dull and depressing it's almost offensive to the people of the area. The whole movie lacks any kind of energy or dynamics. Yes, strictly speaking the accents are all completely wrong because everyone seems to be from the west coast but that's not such a big deal for me. I thought Agyness Deyn's on- screen accent was OK but they obviously recorded the voice-over later because she is truly horrendous at that - think Dick Van Dyke and cockney. She utterly fails with the classic shibboleth "loch".

In general Deyn's lack of training and experience undoes her here - she looks like she's acting. That combined with the overwhelming lethargy undermines the performances of the rest of the cast which are well delivered. Peter Mullan as usual shines with authenticity. So go and see it if you are in California and want a gentle breeze of early 20th century rural life in Europe. If you are in Scotland don't go without your headphones and blindfold - a nice two hour sleep in a comfy seat will be better than watching this dreary annihilation of a much loved book.
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gsandra61425 August 2016
This movie is the most artistically excellent film I've ever seen. The frames in this movie could be stopped and transferred to oil on canvas and mounted in an art museum. The photography was flawless as were the performances.

(My one criticism was Ewan's total change of personality when he came home on furlough. You'd think he would be eager to be with his loving wife -- but he went off his head and raped her. Their idyllic life was torn apart.)

Also -- who was that twit in the pulpit pushing political coercion and calling young farmers "cowards" if they didn't enlist? So much for separation of church and state.

This movie was lovingly photographed. It made me want to move to Scotland.
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A languid exploration of Scottish highland life in the early 20th century.
markgorman5 December 2015
Sunset Song is a classic Scottish novel, part of a trilogy by Lewis Grassic Gibbon and much loved by many, many people (including my wife).

I confess to having not read it, so had no particular expectations when approaching this movie which happens to have been made possible by two of my friends, Bob Last and Ginnie Atkinson.

It will divide audiences because the pace is slow.


But I loved it.

Much media attention has focused on the casting of supermodel come actor Agyness Deyn (completely contrived name) as a Mancunian playing a seminal Scottish role but I have to say I liked her performance, and her accent. The scene in which she learns of her husband's war news is particularly well acted.

Of course this movie is about Terence Davies. He makes very few but when he does they tend to be statements about British life and, for me, this is another great entry in his canon of work.

Davies could have made a feminist statement through Deyn's character, had she been more assertive, but he resists the temptation and instead reflects the male dominance of relationships in the early 20th century (leading up to and including the first world war).

Two and a bit hours, with zero action, and not much dialogue can't be most people's cup of tea (much has been made of the regular return to a certain corn field but, you know what, I didn't care).

It is a languid and lovely observation of a lifestyle that is long past and male dominated.

Special mentions for the ever brilliant Peter Mullan (a beastly father) and a great performance by Kevin Guthrie as the husband of the central character.
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Good movie. Shame about the subtitling!
alangmcw-850-64196318 May 2017
I watched this movie recently on Amazon Prime. I enjoyed it very much on the whole. The setting of north-east Scotland farm life over 100 years ago (and through the first years of WW1) is close to my own family background, and so maybe the story-line has special resonance for me. At any rate it is a fine story which is well told by the actors and the director and not forgetting the choice of locations.

My only complaint is about the sub-titling. I often like to watch a movie with sub-titles switched on – to help me catch the dialogue more completely. And OK, I admit that my hearing is deteriorating a bit. The dialogue in the movie is pretty faithful to the book and to the Doric dialect of this part of Scotland, so maybe some people would be more inclined than normally to switch on the subtitling. Anyway, much of the subtitling on the version I saw must have been created by some kind of phonetic interpreter, because it translated many of the Doric words or locations into meaningless garbage.
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A powerful adaptation of a classic Scottish novel, marred by a few WTF?! moments
The_late_Buddy_Ryan8 December 2017
Terence Davies is a brilliant director who specializes in period pieces, dimly lit interiors and fraught family dramas, and it's great that almost all of his films are available for streaming. Unlike "A Quiet Passion," an audacious reimagining of the life of Emily Dickinson, "Sunset Song" is a pretty straightforward adaptation of a classic novel, though not without some distinctive personal touches.

Davies took some heat in the UK for casting a flawless former model (an English one at that) as a rugged Scottish farm girl, but Agyness Deyn acquits herself very well in the role of Chris Guthrie. If he does have a fault though, it's that he seems to think of plot and character as necessary evils, to be dealt with as briskly as possible so he can linger over the atmospherics--the grittiness of daily life, tense family meals and boisterous communal feasts, the beauty of "the lond" (mostly shimmering fields of wheat shot in 65 mm).

If I remember the BBC series from the 70s correctly, Chris's father, John, who dominates the first half of the film, was a more complex personality, a conscience-stricken Calvinist who can't stay away from his wife even after a nearly fatal pregnancy, like an earthier version of a Dreyer or Bergman character. Davies presents him simply as a sex-crazed ogre, which makes Peter Mullan ("Top of the Lake") the obvious casting choice.

Later on, the film's dramatic climax is handled a bit awkwardly: Chris's husband, Euan, and his friends, all neighboring farmers, are shamed by the community into joining up when war breaks out with Germany in 1914--we get to hear the minister sermonizing that "the mon they call the kaiserrr is none other than the Antichrrrist!" We aren't at all prepared for Euan's transformation from a dutiful, loving husband to a randy, foul-tempered bully when he returns for his first leave--a less godfearing replica of the unlamented John Guthrie. A flashback that tells the rest of Euan's story, narrated by one of his comrades at the front, is even harder to reconcile with what's gone before.

Having said all that, I still recommend the film. It's by no means Davies's best, but Chris's story is well told, with exceptions noted, and cinematographer Michael McDonough ("Winter's Bone") does an amazing job of realizing Davies's vision of "the power and cruelty of both family and nature."
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Extremely Disappointed
williecroft13 December 2015
Without a doubt the biggest movie disappointment of the year. It's hard to add much to the other user reviews but from where I was sitting the accents were awful, Deyn was completely wooden and although I'm a bit of a fan if his, Peter Mullen played hard dad Peter Mullen as usual. believe me I could go on because there are so many truly naff issues with this film. The fact is the Grassic Gibbon story was butchered. I doubt if any of the film maker even read it! OK exaggeration but not much of one.

Its not a documentary and like everyone else I'm at the movies so happy to suspend disbelief but there were too many "that's nonsense, they widnae dae that" moments for me and I could hear a general stifled groan in the Glasgow audience. I mean, who comes into your house and just starts singing for flip's sake?

lastly, can't anyone other than a Scot recognise a true Scots accent? Grass Gibbon's trilogy was so great, so well adapted by the BBC all those years ago and in fact so well loved that it makes me sad to watch this movie.
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A film with no soul.
babsyfortyfive2 December 2015
What a dreadful film, underpinned by Agyness Deyn's truly appalling accent. She only had one facial expression, and that was static. The film was episodic, with the episodes seeming to be scenes that were happening while the real action was taking place in another world. I struggle to think how people who don't know the story will have made any sense at all of this drivel. The entire cast of characters seemed to hail from Glasgow except in the main character's case, who seemed to be from everywhere except Scotland, far less the north-east. Please, if you go to see this film, pretend it's about a mythical country peopled by one- dimensional characters. Don't imagine it has any connection with Scotland. It doesn't. It is woeful and, at 2hr 15 minutes, at least two hours too long.
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Disjointed, but succeeds despite that
euroGary9 December 2015
Warning: Spoilers
The rolling green hills and fields full of shimmering golden wheat looked so nice in 'Sunset Song'; "Ah", I thought, "The Scottish countryside is lovely." Then I read in the end credits that some of this British/Luxembourg co-production was shot on location in New Zealand. Oh. Possibly I was admiring Kiwi hills instead...

Anyway. The setting is agricultural Scotland in the early Twentieth Century, and the main character is Chris (Agyness Deyn), a teenager who outshines her classmates (not surprisingly as she looks considerably older than most of them) and who dreams of being a teacher. She lives on the family farm with her overly-controlling father (Peter Mullan), who routinely beats her brother in-between making pregnant his wife (Daniela Nardini, who doesn't seem to have had a good meaty role in years). The story, based on a famous Scottish novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, follows Chris through several years of happiness, motherhood and bereavement.

Mullan does his usual one-note bullying schtick, although, to be fair, the script allows him little scope for anything else. As Chris, Deyn is competent, if the viewer ignores one or two flatly-delivered lines - perhaps she was concentrating on her accent (and why hire an English actress to play a Scotswoman anyway? Were all the Scottish actresses busy? It's not as if Deyn is a Winslet-like big name who is going to put bums on seats).

As for the story, it seems to lurch from one scenario to another, with little to connect it all up. It's possible some vital scenes were left on the cutting-room floor (for instance, any explanation of why Chris' happy, worshipful husband is transformed into a rampaging sexist monster after what the film suggests is merely army training which, I should think, would last only a few months, not the five or six years the ageing of his son seems to suggest!) Characters wander into the story then disappear with no explanation (eg: Chris' son and the man who helps her on the farm while her husband is away). It all gives the film a strangely disjointed feel...

... but somehow the end result is greater than the sum of its parts: this is an enjoyable production. Deyn makes a personable heroine and the story has a comforting predictability. The film seems shorter than its 135 minute running time - and with films as with business meetings, what greater praise could there be?
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A shocker
p-seed-889-18846911 May 2017
As I watched this movie I grew sadder with each passing minute. Not because the movie was sad but because this movie was someone's baby and it is never pleasant to see someone's dreams and hard work come to nought. I would like to say this is a great movie. Failing that I would like to say it is a good movie. However I cannot do this, because it is not.

This is not so much a movie but a set of fragments, literally EVERY one of which either makes no sense, is totally and unrealistically contrived, overacted, irrelevant, and in many cases all of the above. We have a classroom scene in which someone says "oh,oh,oh butin", very interesting I'm sure but...why? We have two girls walking along a path, saying ridiculous things and displaying lesbian tendencies but why? After this we never see one of these girls again. We have a girl called Christine - annoyingly called by everyone "Chris" – surely a nickname that would only used by her family and a few close friends. This "Chris" has a brother with whom she seems to have a relationship that is close enough to be disturbing. For no apparent reason the brother starts spouting nonsense rhymes which include the work "Jehovah". Apparently his father has been stalking him for he is waiting outside the door eavesdropping and beats the living daylights out of the son for using the Lord's name in vain. The father ostentatiously cleans his gun, so we know that we can expect a scene involving this. Sure enough in the next scene, the son, again for reasons which are not clear, against all advice, uses said gun and once again gets the living daylights beaten out of him by his Father. Subsequently we see the brother half naked, cradled in his sister's arms, as of course you do in these circumstances. The marks on the son's back are completely inconsistent with the punishment he has received, and as regular as graph paper. The father gets a new harvester and although presumably the arrival of such an expensive, large and unusual piece of equipment must surely have been the talk of the community, apparently the son is only aware of it once it is put into action. Despite the wonder of this device neither father nor son is in the least bit interested in its results. Harvesting the cut wheat apparently consists of picking it up and putting it down again a few feet away. A worker randomly arrives from nowhere and the father is he hires him immediately when just a minute before he didn't need anyone. Chris delivers said worker a meal and he fondles her legs, with Chris just standing there seemingly enjoying it. What does this mean? Next up we have a gratuitous look at Chris admiring her nude self in the mirror – ah, proving what? We never see the worker again. There is a storm, simulated by what appears to be a couple of sparklers tied to some fence posts. Chris goes out to look after the horses. For reasons difficult to explain the neighbours are also out shouting "Chris, Chris", as you do in a storm. Fast forward, Chris gets married. There is a brief and pointless appearance by a Miss Melon who duly leaves having contributed nothing. One night the father in law suddenly arrives in uniform – apparently they give these to you as soon as you enlist. In what seems to be an outtake of village of the dammed we see scores of people wandering through the cornfields to get to church. By and by the husband also suddenly walks out of the house to enlist. Sometime later he just as suddenly arrives back a completely different person, I mean a COMPLETELY different person. Perhaps this is supposed to mean something but I don't know what. In due course he leaves again. Chris gets a message saying her husband has been killed and falls about crying "they're lying" about 100 times. We see the husband in flashback before he is shot for desertion. Miraculously his original personality has returned and almost as miraculously in time of war his father is there to visit him. Outside deserters are getting shot one after the other in some sort of assembly line when in actuality only 400 people deserters were shot in the entire course of the war. The husband is shot by 4 riflemen, as opposed to the usual dozen, and what's more they do so with no orders. Meanwhile back at home Chris is talking to her husband's shirt, yes that's right TALKING TO HIS SHIRT, saying that she understands, which is just as well because none of the audience do. Stringing together all these meaningless fragments of nothing we have a turgid narration that seems as it was written by a "random angst generator" on a computer. I don't think I have ever heard so much rubbish and cod-philosophy in my life - the only message I got out of it is that apparently "Chris is the land", very deep I am sure. None of the characters are the least bit interesting or likable. I could care less about any of the characters – Chris, the father, the mother, the brother, the husband – none of whom resemble, act like, talk like, think like, any rational human being I have ever met. And what does it all mean? Is there actually a point? War is Hell? Life in Scotland in the 1910's was Hell? Being a woman is Hell? Men are pigs? It is very sad that so much effort and care resulted in such a poor film. I truly hope the makers were pleased with the results but to me it is ultimately one long facade behind which lurks precisely nothing.
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Terrible film version of a lovely book.
sarahfcoghill5 December 2015
This is a terrible film - wooden acting and awful accents. The book is a real Scottish classic, set in the area I have lived in and worked for many years now - but the whole portrayal of folk from this area at the beginning of the 20th century is all wrong. Agnes Deynn looks so odd next to the actor playing her husband as she's so much taller than him - she should stick to being a model. Really poor development of the story and, to a Scot, the unforgivable wrong lyrics to Auld Lang Syne sung - did no-one check?! There's a particularly hilarious scene where the local folk walk to church through a ripe harvest field (as if they'd ever do that!) while a very 'anglified' sounding choir sing "All in the April Evening" - really, for the'couthy' folk of the Mearns?! I only sat through the whole thing to see the lovely, poignant ending - and they ruined that too :( Just awful - please read the book instead!
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Good cinematography, but...
hugh_jaeger9 January 2016
Who were the "North Highland Regiment"? No "ladies from hell" that I've ever heard of. And why the Latin shoulder numerals "IXI"? That's not even a real or feasible Latin number.

Is my sight failing, or did the soldiers' shoulder insignia say "Brecknock"? Wasn't that a battalion of the South Wales Borderers, as in "wrong Celtic country"? Did someone just find a bundle of WW1 shoulder badges on a market stall and decide to use them, without bothering to Google what regiment or even what country they were from?

Laura Hollins (let's use your real name, not your gibberish fantasy one) gives birth to a baby several months old. Next thing we know, the boy is a few years old but Laura looks exactly the same age. Other reviewers have already noted other discontinuities with which this film is riddled.

The slow, linear narrative is likable enough. Whether Hollins' Doric is credible is for Scots to judge. But botching basic details breaks the spell. I don't feel cheated of my ticket money. Just disappointed that such basic authenticity was botched by lazy and ignorant prop-buying and film-making.
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Real life. Maybe too much so.
skericson16 November 2018
Don't care about whether the accents were authentic or not. It's portrayal of life was real. Coming for a year of great losses, I found the movie to be disquieting, difficult. But well worth viewing.
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Suffers under Davies' jumbled approach, but Deyn's performance redeems it.
Sergeant_Tibbs31 October 2015
Lewis Grassic Gibbon's 1932 novel Sunset Song is considered a classic of Scottish literature, and English director Terence Davies has spent 15 years bringing it to the screen. It's with a heavy heart that perhaps the sprawling and archaic epic may not translate to contemporary cinema. It's the story of Chris Guthrie in the early 20th century, a teenage girl (here played by Agyness Deyn) who suffers the changing rota of her family as they pass on or exit, ultimately leaving the farm to her tending. At first, it seems it's operating on a compelling contradiction that's rarely explored. While not only is a young woman's perspective in this time hardly considered on film, but it puts her in command, independent of a man's world while they were drafted to war. Unfortunately, it doesn't sing from that hymn sheet.

The biggest problem is that it seems to lack thematic consistency, or at least develop them with interesting contrasts. Its strongest idea is initially the passage of womanhood, but instead it's interested in vicious cycles. The first third of Sunset Song is a series of examples of pure misery as Chris suffers with little relief. Peter Mullan stars as her abusive father, clearly channelling Pete Postlewaite in Distant Voices, but without the dimensions. Mullan is perfectly capable of dominating the film like he's offered here, but Davies needed to give him more layers. As sources of misery are picked off, the second third is, delightfully, pure joy. Despite some obstacles, Chris thrives on the farm and begins a seemingly happy marriage with her brother's gentle friend Ewan. However, it's void of irony of what came before and what's to come.

The war comes. It whisks Ewan away despite his initial reluctance then his branding as a coward. With little prior hints, the film turns into a bleak anti-war film in how it destroys the fabric of families in spite of earlier strengths. Chris' brilliant triumphs as an independent woman do not overcome. A compassionate film would have left veins of bittersweetness within its rays of hope and despair, but instead it's simply flat, void of the expressionistic nostalgia that Davies has utilised before. Distant Voices, Still Lives – one of the finest British films I've ever seen – and The Long Day Closes, which I was less impressed with, both have exquisite photography, creating an ethereal atmosphere. The photography here is misjudged, being far too wide for an intimate film while its modern crispness makes it feel like actors playing dress- up in theatre. At least the locations lend themselves to the beauty when the camera is outside.

Not to rob the film of its brightest shining attribute though. Agyness Deyn as Chris Guthrie is absolutely incredible, carrying the film squarely on her shoulders. She's raw, committed and deeply expressive. While her character certainly needed more work, she's never dragged down by the film's shortcomings and elevates the film where it falls. The supporting cast doesn't quite have the same potency, but that's mostly due to Davies' overly simple handling of the material. Kevin Guthrie as Ewan has two interesting sides to his character to explore, as he starts kind but transforms into a man like Chris' father, but they're put beside each other. Those facets are finally blended, but by that point it was too late to redeem. Perhaps it was more powerful when the book was written in the 30s at the dawn of another war. In Davies' direction, the film is often either conventional in its domestic dramas or its a meagre attempt at those conventions.

Sunset Song does occasionally have ambitions beyond the grand struggles of the Scottish people in the early century. With Deyn's narration, it occasionally dips into profound ideas of her insignificance in the grand scheme of time. If delivered quicker, it could have made more of an impact. It also dips into the ideas of the relationship between people and the land as the land stays resilient while war takes people away. It contrasts Chris' own battered endurance with the land's bruises. As the film plays one note at a time, it's difficult to take anything pure away from it, but at least attempts are made and lifts it up from mediocrity. Perhaps this just wasn't the right source material for a film just over 2 hours long as it even suffers from its slow pacing. Davies has always focused on the past rather than the present, but perhaps his perspective is too ancient for cinema now.

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Barely passable British indie film
Rickting26 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Sunset Song, directed by Terence Davis, is the meandering story of a young woman coming of age in the early 20th century in Scotland. I want to use this film to make a point about why I think modern cinema, though as fascinating as ever, just isn't quite as good as previous decades for cinema. People blame blockbusters for ruining cinema, even though loads of genuinely good blockbusters are released every year. Why do people go and see blockbusters? Because the alternatives are usually sub-par dramatic films. Boring indie flicks, Oscar bait and mediocre dramas which are made for critics and critics alone. So, while blockbusters could be better, people go to see them because the alternative isn't good enough either. This film is a perfect example. With its use of voice-overs, slow pace, thematic depth and character based narrative, this is not a mainstream film at all. It's something critics will enjoy, but audiences may find it more difficult to relate to thanks to its self indulgence.

Sunset Song is visually stunning, with many great shots of the Scottish landscape. The film starts out well with some family related story lines for Chris, the young woman at the centre of the story. This stuff is reasonably moving and has a sense of a soul. Peter Mullan is very good as her brutal father. The middle section of the film completely sags, as it drones on and on with nothing really happening aside from her getting married. Then the final third involves the First World War and its effects on her. When you're actually relieved that World War I happens so that something interesting is finally going on, you know you're in trouble. In this final third, the film finally finds its feet but too little, too late. It's well directed, has some occasionally powerful moments and it's overall well acted, but unfortunately the main actress, Agyness Deyn, is awful and completely unconvincing. Add in an overindulgent runtime, a monotonous script and a general lack of energy, settling instead for conveying its messages with loads of pretentious voice-overs performed terribly by the lead actress who murders the Scottish accent. Not a terrible film, and a moderately interesting watch but it's too superficial to truly satisfy.

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Pretentious Claptrap, Occasionally Pretty to Look At
billmarsano8 June 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Seeking irredeemable Presbyterian gloom? Then Sunset Song is the haggis you crave. Critically if unconvincingly acclaimed, it's set in rural 1900-ish Scotland, the part where the scenery is well, OK, but hardly of malt-whiskey-ad beauty. Our heroine is Chris, a lovely and intelligent girl now going on to 'college'--meaning secretarial school as understood at the time. That doesn't happen but never mind —as we're told by the incessant bloody narration, Chris is in love with THE LAND! She identifies with it! Spiritually! Hard to believe, but the narration absolutely insists. Home life is hell or a little worse but Chris survives to make a wonderful marriage. Then that goes bad, and she is sort of inconsolable. Fade out. You can stop reading here unless interested in all the loose parts that drag the thing down. We open with a scene of closeness between Chris and her best gal pal--who then simply disappears. Chris says her Pa is a wool-dyed socialist, committed to universal justice, but that disappears too, and instead we get a religious tyrant who beats his grown son bloody, drives his wife to infanticide and suicide and tries to rape Chris but dies in the attempt. There's another unsuccessful rape attempt, this by the hired man, but it means nothing to the story. The Son should have murder on his mind, but he simply leaves; end of HIS story. After Ma's suicide, two surviving younger siblings are brusquely shipped out: end of THEIR story. Chris runs the farm almost alone yet is somehow an extremely good farmer, at least in the romanticized kind of agriculture retailed here: much moony contemplation/joyous reveling re the (semi-lovely) land, little reference to the back-breaking slavery that rural farming actually was. Enter farmhand Ewan, a gentle, loving, considerate, good- natured paragon of Mr. Right. Theirs is a marriage of the made-in- heaven variety, so catastrophe is guaranteed. Ah yes--World War I. Ewan goes off to the army and returns a brute, a savage, a monster. He's barely through the door when he rapes Chris, which he does nightly. Oh!--the horrors of PTSD, right? Well no. Ewan has been totally dehumanized by a mere few weeks of basic training! When he does go to the front, he immediately deserts, is immediately caught and immediately shot for a coward. We close with Chris sobbing into one of Ewan's shirts, crying piteously "I understood." What? Doesn't she identify with THE LAND anymore? Those who consider narration death to movies, and pointless details likewise, will call this a multiple homicide. The filmmakers' failure here is due to inability to manage the novel that is their source. Turning a novel into a movie almost invariably means leaving LOTS of stuff out so as to focus on the essentials. That didn't happen here, and the result is a barely coherent mess, heavily larded with tedium.
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Watch the TV series instead
gallusNumpty25 September 2018
It follows the book more or less, but Doric is a hard accent to pull off if you're not a native, and the attempts in this movie are detrimental throughout.

Do yourself a favour and find the original BBC series of all three books in the trilogy from the 1970s, with the wonderful Vivien Heilbron as Chris.
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