Sunset Song tackles courage in all its forms 

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The narrative for Sunset Song is pieced together by the deep poetic musings of Chris Guthrie, the tale’s young female protagonist.

Chris’ inner thoughts often offer the greatest emotional clarity in the film, though, like much of the film’s dialogue, meaning can be tough to construe through thick accents and dated manners of speech.

“There are lovely things in this world, lovely that do not endure and the lovelier for that,” she says.

Sunset Song is the movie adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s 1932 Scottish novel of the same name. It screens May 27-29 at Oklahoma City Museum of Art, 415 Couch Drive.

Directed by Terence Davies, the film follows a young woman as she traverses a working-class life in a Scotland balanced on the cusp of World War I.

The story superbly explores the role women played in society and implores viewers to consider what it truly means to be brave.

We meet Chris (played by model and actress Agyness Deyn) as a bright student enrolled in a school for girls. She lives with her family ruled by the iron fist of her father, John (Peter Mullan), a gruff and steadfastly religious farmer.

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His ways come into brutal conflict with his eldest son, Will (Jack Greenlees), also Chris’ closest friend and confidant.

Life hasn’t been easy for Chris, but things fall apart following her mother’s death, her father’s debilitating stroke and the departure of her brother for a life abroad. Chris remains as her ungrateful father’s sole caregiver.

“You’re my flesh and blood, and I can do with you what I will,” he lovelessly tells her.

After her father dies, things begin to look up for Chris. She gains an inheritance, marries strappingly handsome Ewan (Kevin Guthrie) and has a son she names after him.

The onset of World War I casts a dark cloud over Scotland and the rest of Europe. It hovers over her new family too, as Ewan is left no choice but to join the cause. It’s a decision that transforms him.

Deyn is captivating enough as Chris to keep viewers going even as they begin to wonder what the true conflict of the film will be. It’s Mullan who steals the show, however, beautifully portraying John’s brand of ruthless piety.

Sunset Song is a vicious and tragic story.

It is not depicted in that way though, and that’s where the film’s fault lies. The unthinkable pains of childbirth without anesthetic and John’s beatings of his eldest son are dulled to the point where the audience seems unable to grasp their impact.

Though Chris is a strong character, it’s clear some of the men in the film do not pay proper respect to her or other women. She is left little choice but to leave school to care for her family, despite her academic promise.

She’s treated as a possession.

Still, in a time when females were expected to be submissive, Chris is far from meek. After her father dies (and arguably as he dies), she finally gains control over her own life.

Who says a housewife can’t be brave? She’s the sole caretaker for her helpless and callous father. She picks up the pieces of her life and starts anew without her family. She shows resilience despite the intense strife suffered by lovers divided by warfare.

Lovely things may fade, but courage can endure for lifetimes to come.

Print headline: Lyrical beauty, Sunset Song director Terence Davies tells a brutal tale in a reserved way.

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