Sunset Song is Dreary Scottish Dirge of a Film

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click to enlarge Sunset Song's Agyness Deyn
Sunset Song's Agyness Deyn
Opening Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre, Sunset Song undoubtedly captures all of life’s hardships. Set in early 1900s Scotland, the film follows Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn) as she goes from being the daughter of a Scottish farmer to an orphan, a wife, a mother and, eventually, a widow.

Although the film is a great story, it’s ultimately told wrong. Moving at a glacial pace, it’s very easy to get lost in the longevity of Sunset Song. Running at 135 minutes, there are several irrelevant scenes that muddle the strong narrative. Based on a book of the same name, there is no doubt that this film paints a compelling portrait of a strong Scottish woman; however, it can be hard to see that portrait in a sea of sub-par dialogue and stoic acting.

The opening scene depicts Chris in school, living a seemingly quiet and normal life. This sense of normalcy is then shattered within minutes. Piercing shrieks of Chris’ mother giving birth to twins erupts through the screen. Painful screams are of course expected during childbirth, but these cries signal much more.

When the screams of childbirth end, Chris’ new life begins. Her mother commits suicide, her brother leaves home and her father abruptly dies, leaving Chris alone in a world with war looming. To compensate for her losses, Chris finds solace in marriage to a seemingly sweet man, Ewan (Kevin Guthrie). However, when Chris gets pregnant, her own shrieks of childbirth pain once again signal that her life will take a turn for the worse.

Ewan enlists, runs off to France and returns home years later a changed man. The charmingly innocent man that brought sunshine into Chris’ life is no more; he abuses Chris, abuses his son, takes their money and runs back to France where he eventually dies, leaving Chris once again alone.

The film gets it right in terms of beautiful landscapes, unique lighting, chilling Scottish music and poetic third-person narration by Chris. However, with mundane camera angles and similar shots throughout, it often feels like we’re watching the same scene on a loop. Perhaps with different editing and the deletion of scenes these problems would be rendered fixed, but in its current state, Sunset Song’s only compelling feature is its fascinating story of a woman who emerges from countless tragedies stronger each time.
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