Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Grade: A-
Director:  Terence Davies
Written by: Terence Davies, adapting Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel
Cast: Agyness Deyn, Peter Mullan, Kevin Guthrie, Ian Pirie
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 4/20/16
Opens: May 13, 2016

If you’re like me, more than occasionally tired of the New York rat race, disgusted with the slow train service and wondering why you’re even willing to be packed in like a sardine, then prepare to envy the topography of Terence Davies’s “Sunset Song.”  From the beginning, you’ll see areas of New Zealand, Scotland and Luxembourg, all standing in for a village in Aberdeenshire, in a simpler but only somewhat less violent time.  You may want to give away your New York City Metrocard and head off to a less polluted and decidedly less crowded clime to farm the land, and if you are an alienated city slicker, you may even last for a month or so.  The folks who earn their keep by farming drive their pairs of horses across the fields, feed the chickens, and take care of the cows in the barn as though they were in some primitive area of the world. Then again, it’s 1910 and Europe is on the cusp of World War I.  The times are not simpler after all.

Writer-director Terence Davies is in his element, having bestowed on us such epic and gorgeous tales like “The Deep Blue Sea” (the wife of a British judge is caught in a self-destructive love affair with a Royal Air Force pilot) and “The House of Mirth” (a woman risks losing her chance of happiness with the only man she has ever loved).

Now, with “The Sunset Song,” Davies opens a vista on the large screen, featuring breathtaking scenery with plant growth made abundant by regular Irish-type rainfalls.  “Sunset Song” is ravishing, and so is Agyness Deyn, who has changed from being a British super model to that of an accomplished film actress, who may remind some in the audience of Saoirse Ronan knocking out the immigrant role in “Brooklyn.”  Despite the 135-minutes’ duration of the film which proceeds smoothly enough with virtually no music on the soundtrack, the hours roll by effortlessly, and if you’re concerned about understanding the Scottish brogue, particularly of Peter Mullan, no worries: “Sunset Song” has English subtitles throughout.

One may wonder how Chris (Agyness Deyn) turned out as well as she did, given the nature of her father, John Guthrie (Peter Mullan), as violent and obnoxious as any father you’ll see on the big screen.  In one scene, accusing his son Will (Jack Greenlees) of using God’s name in vain, he punches him several times until the lad, just out of his teens, virtually passes out.  In another instance of the vile man’s tyranny, he delivers lashes to the young man’s back.  You don’t wonder that the lad repeatedly says “I hate him,” and you might expect the son to take revenge instead of running away to Aberdeen and ultimately to Argentina with his new wife.

One day, the dewy eyed, 18-year-old Chris is helped driving horses through thunder and lightning by Ewan (Kevin Guthrie), a neighbor, beginning a quick courtship that results in a New Year’s Eve wedding, guests singing Auld Lang Syne.  Their happiness does not last, as the war breaks out with Germany, the village residents and especially the minister criticizing those who do not join the Scottish regiment as not only cowards, but pro-German cowards. We wonder whether the marriage will endure, particularly since Ewan, pressured by the village, joins up, fighting a war that one called a huge waste of life for a few meters of Belgian mud.

Michael McDonough does a great job lensing wide open, sparsely inhabited land, and could be in line for awards at year’s end.  Agyness Deyn, who had a role in “Hail, Caesar!” and was formerly married to Giovanni Ribisi, anchors the role, appearing in virtually every scene, casting a spell on the audience by her strong will to prevail despite the tragedies that will enter her life.  The movie may inspire you to get the 263-page paperback at Amazon for under nine bucks, but be prepared for following some difficult-to-decipher Scottish brogue in print.

The film opens May 13 in two of New York’s most prestigious theaters, Lincoln Plaza and Film Forum.

Unrated.  134 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – A
Overall – A-


By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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