Adapted from Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s 1932 novel of the same name, ‘Sunset Song’ firmly sets the central focus on Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn), who grows up in rural Aberdeenshire and works the land whilst enduring an abusive father, before falling in love and watching in despair as the men in the village are forced by the church and the state to march off and join World War I. I feel I should warn you that this film made me quite intensely angry after viewing it (never a good thing when one is a dragon), but it did so by virtue of it being a great film masterfully created, bar just a few scenes with music that backfires (the novel ends with a song, so they kind of had to attempt it at some point) and a central character change that’s almost certainly displayed too abruptly for its own good.
Bizarrely, this was filmed in Luxembourg and New Zealand as well as Scotland (you’d think it cheaper just to stay in Scotland, although we have no film studio here which might be why – something there is currently a campaign to hopefully do something about), and one must be aware before watching this that it is looooooong and slooooooooow, absolutely not a film to bring popcorn into unless you are willing to piss off everyone in the auditorium including yourself. Many of the indoor scenes have a hazy quality to them and they are matched in contrast with crisply clear shots of beautiful countryside, indeed the former reminded me so much of Terence Davies’ ‘The Deep Blue Sea’ (11) that there was a definite internal high-five when I discovered he wrote and directed this too, and the film stands as a really good example of how it’s possible to make an incredibly still and slow movie work and resonate with an audience.
I’m additionally glad that it’s an Englishman who has chosen to take on one of the most famous of Scottish novels from the last one hundred years, because watching all the men leave to fight in a war that had nothing to do with Scotland and was naught more than a member measuring contest between pompous aristocrats is alone enough to make your blood boil, but becomes increasingly septic when combined with the current dragging of the nation into more military conflict, this time by dropping bombs on Syria, once again by rich English toffs (in parliament the Scottish National Party, which currently controls almost all of the seats in Scotland, voted unanimously against the bombing campaign) who almost certainly stand to personally gain financially given it makes no military sense whatsoever, pretty sure America and France don’t need any more bombs, and their party (the Tory party) has a long history of profiting from war (former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her son immediately spring to mind). Davies here is a most desperately welcome counterpoint to the all too common and pervasive feeling that English arrogance and greed constantly threatens and undermines Scotland and her people.
Deyn seems to grow much like her character does as the film progresses, gaining in personal strength and determination as time passes and leaving an enduring impression on the audience as we feel her various triumphs and heartaches, and the emotional, physical and claustrophobic recreation of her environment is fantastic, replete with realistic sex scenes – having the camera pan round while the man is on top (Kevin Guthrie in this case) to reveal an uncompromising view of a large hairy male arse is certainly something you’re unlikely to see in the mainstream …
Emotional and poignant, it’s a film that constantly threatens to drive you away with the intense silence and quiet; the close brooding with violent tempers ever champing at the bit, but instead it leaves us reeling from the reality that was, and still is.