Review: Aygness Deyn shines in a dark tale of misery

Tom Long
The Detroit News

A tale of hardship and perseverance, “Sunset Song” is both visually lush and classically carved, if occasionally overwrought.

There’s no denying that director Terence Davies (“House of Mirth,” “The Deep Blue Sea”) takes full advantage of the Scottish landscape — a scene where townsfolk walk through fields of grain on the way to a funeral is breathtaking. And the casting of supermodel Aygness Deyn assures the film of radiance, though at times that radiance beams perhaps a bit too brightly.

Deyn plays Chris Guthrie, a teen girl in pre-World War I Scotland as the film begins. Chris excels at languages in school and is well on her way to becoming a teacher. The only problem? Her family.

Or, more specifically, her father, John (Peter Mullan), a tyrannical farmer who beats his eldest son, Will (Jack Greenlees), and keeps impregnating his wife, Jean (Daniela Nardini), even though it’s obviously taking a toll on her health and mental stability.

After delivering twins, bringing the family’s brood to six, Jean again finds herself pregnant. Despairing, she takes her life, as well as that of the twins. Which would be more than enough for most tales of misery, but this one’s just getting started. Eventually Chris finds a bit of happiness with a local lad (Kevin Guthrie), but then along comes the war.

Based on a beloved novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, which shows the Scots are perhaps even more grim than the Brits, “Sunset Song” is filled with lovely moments despite its drastic circumstances.

Much of the credit has to go to the earthy-while-ethereal Deyn (who’s in her 30s playing a teen and completely believable). Things get a bit much at times, but it’s impossible to take your eyes off her, and not align with Chris Guthrie against life’s dark tides.

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.

‘Sunset Song’


Rated R for sexuality, nudity and some violence

Running time: 135 minutes

At the Detroit Film Theatre