If you are looking for a film to make you realise that your life, even with impending exams, really isn’t that bad then Sunset Song may be the film for you. Unremittingly bleak, this story of a poor farming family near Aberdeen at the start of the twentieth century features enough rape, beatings, incest, infanticide, suicide and general death for a whole season of Game of Thrones.
An adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s classic novel, the film focuses on Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn), a girl in her mid-teens at the start of the film slowly growing to maturity. Deyn is almost always excellent in this role, able to show the way Chris grows very believably as a character shaped profoundly by the hardships of her life. Many of these hardships come from her abusive father, played by Peter Mullan in incredibly menacing style, perhaps even too much so – when the film tries to have a moment of sympathy for him it is hard go along with it.
The somewhat episodic structure of the film, as we jump through fairly significant amounts of time following Chris’ life, is held together by clever editing. Sound is frequently used to bridge between sections with songs, as the title would lead you to expect, being very important – tying together different parts of the chronology thematically.
This is a film as much about the land where it is set as it is about the characters that live there, featuring many stunning shots of the area that are beautiful but also often dark and brooding.
Disconcertingly however, for a story so rooted in the Aberdeenshire landscape, almost all the characters speak with West Coast accents. It seems a shame that a film so concerned with giving an honest and unflinching portrayal of life in a particular area at a particular time loses a part of the character of the area it was trying to portray. Nonetheless, most viewers will not notice this, and overall it doesn’t detract from Sunset Song’s beautiful portrayal of a very unenviable way of life.
Image: Stu Smith; Flickr.com