Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s classic novel is finally adapted for the big screen in Terence Davies’ poetic ode to the North East of Scotland, it’s land, and it’s people. A long gestating passion project for Davies, the English auteur has created a work of fluid and dreamlike beauty, full of striking imagery and stark brutality. Michael McDonough’s gorgeous cinematography brings to mind cinema’s other great Terrence. The camera sweeping over fields of wheat, glowing golden and rustling in the breeze, evoking the genius of Malick.
Agyness Deyn plays Chris Guthrie, a young girl who we first meet in a classroom, an excellent student with dreams of being a teacher. Her lyrical coming-of-age story is both bleak and beautiful, cut through with a salty streak of humour. A life of words and learning pulls at her heart, but she is wedded to the land that she loves, and a duty to a father who deserves no such loyalty.
Her father is played by Peter Mullan, a farmer who rules his house with fists and belts, and treats his wife like a breeding sow. He is fantastic in this role, and no doubt the only actor considered for the part. But I am so tired of seeing Peter Mullan playing the same brutish and terrifying man again and again. He is capable of so much more.
Agyness Deyn is wonderful in the difficult lead role. A lot of sniffy things have been said and written about her accent, but in truth, are any of the actors doing accurate North East accents? I don’t think so. The entire cast are doing broad, generic Scottish accents. Even the Scottish actors. Personally, I think that Deyn does a terrific job as Chris, yearning for more than a life just farming the land, but bound to its beauty.
She faces unexpected trials and hardships from the outside world and from within the walls of her house. A fleeting period of happiness in her life is destroyed when the Great War erupts. People she loves are taken away, reshaped by war, and returned to her as something new. But something oh so familiar. The narrative is a cycle. Like the seasons to a farmer, or the rising and setting of the sun.
We stay with Chris through all this. There are no cutaways to the trenches, or the fields of France. That is a completely different film. This is about the fields of Scotland, and the beautiful young woman who chooses to endure this difficult landscape. Davies’ camera never leaves her. His trademark slow pull-backs hold the shots of her for what seem like an eternity. The cut doesn’t come, and in her face and eyes the truth of her performance sings out.
Cast: Agyness Deyn, Peter Mullan, Kevin Guthrie Director: Terence Davies
Writer: Terence Davies Released By: Metrodome Certificate: 15 Duration: 135 mins Release Date: 4th April 2016