In “Sunset Song,” British actress-model-singer Agyness Deyn portrays a girl enduring life on a Scottish farm in the early 1900s. And, at 135 minutes, the movie is truly a test of endurance.
From British writer-director Terence Davies (“The Deep Blue Sea”), the movie can at times be cringe-inducing and brutal, yet tender and hopeful in depicting Chris’ struggle to find her way in a time when a woman’s worth was little and her body not her own. As Chris, described as a “bonny lass” in the Scottish dialect the film prefers, Deyn is given a lot of emotions to convey and she sometimes misses. She’s too stoic and hardworking, which makes her appear wooden and passionless. Part of that is due to the Davies’ tedious script, an adaptation of the 1932 Scottish classic, that overdoses on melancholy and gloom. Davies’ s-l-o-w pacing doesn’t do anyone any favors, either. He lets scenes run too long.
“Sunset Song,” is a character study of female perseverance. Chris is a studious schoolgirl when we first meet her, and when we leave her, she’s a wizened war widow. It can be heart-wrenching to watch as Chris (or Chrissie or Christine, depends on who’s addressing her) gives up on her dream of becoming a teacher and the vicious cycle of fate takes over. She’ll come to one day understand why her mother commits suicide – to escape the monster living in their house. Dad (a terrific-as-usual Peter Mullan from “War Horse”) has raging mood swings and often takes them out on his wife (Daniela Nardini) and/or Chris’ brother (Jack Greenlees). Mom would rather kill herself then birth him another “bairn.”
Free and hopeful and somewhat well-off when dad dies of a stroke, Chris falls in love and marries Ewan, played by British actor Kevin Guthrie, a dead-ringer for former Patriots receiver Wes Welker. Actors Ian Pirie, Douglas Rankine, Ron Donachie, Niall Greig Fulton and Linda Duncan McLaughlin round out an appealing supporting cast. Each seems interesting enough, but Davies shortchanges them, using his fine cast to propel his heroine’s cause. Davies is no stranger to strong female leads, and so Chris is right in his wheelhouse. Deyn’s porcelain beauty goes along way into communicating her character’s soft exterior but hardened interior.
She puts up with a lot and what does it get her? Much is made of the rural Scottish landscape (kudos to cinematographer Michael McDonough), which the narrator points out, “the land endures” even if the people come and go.
— Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
Cast includes Agyness Deyn, Peter Mullan, Kevin Guthrie.
(R for sexuality, nudity and some violence.)