This is a capsule review. A full review will be posted closer to release.
From its opening title cards onward, Sunset Song is promising nothing more or less than a respectful adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s 1932 novel of the same name. An emotional crockpot that slowly plays out over a verdant plot of Scottish farmland, Sunset Song is an impeccable celluloid translation of what it’s like to read an engrossing weepy. This makes the film liable to having chapters more sleepy than sweeping, but the greater whole is brought to life with clearness of purpose, and earnestness of feeling.
Director and adaptor Terence Davies transports you to Gibbon’s harsh but romantic story of a country lass learning to make her life her own. As the young but steadfast Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn) sees her family taken away from her over a short span of years, she digs her heels into the land of her home, instead of hardening against the world. In doing so, she eventually finds love, and makes a new home for herself that only be described as bonny. Tough as peasant life may be, cinematographer Michael McDonough finds magic in the fields and distant mountains of the country, and dignity beneath the daily hardship.
The happy years of Sunset Song are, in fact, so happy that waiting for the other shoe to drop makes certain scenes unbearably tense. For a while, though, there’s only great joy and humor to be found here, stately as the film may often seem. When things do finally take a turn, it challenges Davies and Deyn’s ability to keep their melodrama from spilling over into the outright melodramatic. But you’ll forgive plenty, or completely ignore many of Sunset Song’s blemishes while ensconced in its homely imagery and low-simmer passion. Davies’ ingenious application of dissolves and music deserve thorough analysis, eventually. There’s technical wizardry here to match the spell that Sunset Song casts when played out in full.
Sunset Song is the kind of film that makes hours in a multiplex theatre feel like curling up fireside with a good book.