Film Review: Distant Voices, Still Lives

Terence Davies’ 1988 award-winning Distant Voices, Still Lives gets a 4K restoration for its 30th anniversary re-release. The film deserves its considerable acclaim.

A family growing up in 1940s and 1950s Liverpool go through the spectrum of human experience. Distant Voices concentrates on the father and his impact on the family, whilst Still Lives focuses on the children…

Terence Davies’ feature debut is just as striking thirty years after its initial release. Written and directed by Davies, Distant Voices, Still Lives is an autobiographical take on the filmmaker’s upbringing in Liverpool. The story is told in a fragmented fashion, with frequent flashbacks to fill in detail and narrative.

As the film progresses, a few themes come to the fore. Firstly, the importance of the matriarch role is emphasised. Despite a difficult relationship, it is the mother who holds the family together. Secondly, the impact of the father’s behaviour casts a long shadow, even when he is no longer present.

Music plays a critical role in the lives of the family, and provides an atmospheric soundtrack to the narrative. Distant Voices, Still Lives could almost be considered a musical, thanks to the frequent singing and presence of song. In addition to this, pop culture is integral to painting the film’s period setting. Davies exhibits great attention to detail in regards to this; the film feels very much of the World War II/post-war era thanks to the sets, costumes and styling.

Distant Voices, Still Lives features great performances from its cast. Pete Postlewaite is most memorable in one of his first major roles. Freda Dowie delivers a strong performance as the family matriarch, whilst Angela Walsh is sympathetic as Eileen.

Davies illustrates the importance of memory, and the impact of early experiences on later life. Distant Voices, Still Lives is a striking and engaging drama, and testament to the filmmaker’s skill.

Distant Voices, Still Lives will be released at the BFI Southbank and at cinemas nationwide from 31st August 2018. For more information see here.

Film Review: A Quiet Passion

A Quiet Passion

Terence Davies’ Emily Dickinson biopic is witty and beautifully shot. A Quiet Passion is a sincere portrait of the poet.

Young Emily Dickinson’s views are at odds with the teachings of her religious school. As she grows up, her love of writing poetry grows, as does her reluctance to confirm to the social mores of the period…

Writer-director Terence Davies delivers a thoughtful period drama in his depiction of the life of Emily Dickinson. A Quiet Passion is beautifully composed, from the exquisite camera work and art direction, to a pleasing script. Davies admiration for his subject matter shine through.

The film begins on Emily as a teenage girl, leaving her school to return to the family home. It then jumps forward to her life as an adult. Davies litters the film with Dickinson’s poetry, relating her words to different occasions in her life. It is a lovely way to tell her story, whilst reminding viewers of the beauty of her poetry. The script is absolutely fantastic. The film sparkles with wit, and the language is expressive throughout.

The first half of A Quiet Passion is stronger than the second half. This section features the fizz of the dialogue, which will frequently have viewers laughing. The second half of the film is bleaker, lacking some of the enjoyment of the first. Although the conveys the change in outlook and the life events of the protagonist, this part of the film feels rather leaden.

Davies beautifully films A Quiet Passion. There are many nice touches, such as the panning shots. The ageing portraits in particular are wonderful to see. The costumes and sets are also great. The score is almost as beautiful as the visuals. Cynthia Nixon delivers a convincing performance as Dickinson. She captures a progressive sense of pessimism which feels most authentic. Jennifer Ehle is also great, as is Catherine Bailey. Keith Carradine’s straight faced delivery also works well.

A Quiet Passion is a lovingly crafted portrait of Emily Dickinson, for the most part doing the beauty of her words justice.

BFI London Film Festival 2016 Launch

Today saw the launch of the BFI London Film Festival 2016. This year’s programme is bursting with cinematic delights. There are more galas than in previous years, and screen talk participants include Werner Herzog and Paul Verhoeven. Here are some of the films to look out for at London Film Festival 2016.

Headline Galas

The Birth of a Nation

The London Film Festival 2016’s opening gala A United Kingdom had already been announced, the Scorsese-produced, Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire looks like a lot of fun. Elsewhere, plenty of hotly anticipated films including La La Land, Arrival and The Birth of a Nation. Writer-director Nate Parker also stars in the story of an enslaved preacher who led a revolt in 1830s Virginia. Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is also a headline gala. An adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan, the film stars Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon. Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe stars David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o.

Strand Galas and Special Presentations

The Handmaiden

This year sees additional galas, which will take place on a purpose built venue on the Strand. They include The Handmaiden, from director Chan-wook Park. The film looks as sumptuous as Park’s previous film Stoker. Miles Teller stars in Bleed For This, based on the true story of boxer Vinny Paziena. Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq is the Sonic Gala. The hip hop musical features Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett and Samuel L. Jackson. Andrea Arnold’s American Honey and Ava DuVernay’s The 13th are among the special presentations this year.

Official Competition

My Life As A Courgette

Paul Verhoeven’s Elle is amongst the Official Competition at London Film Festival 2016. Staring Isabelle Huppert, the film is an adaptation of a Philippe Dijan novel. Terence Davies’ A Quiet Presentation is a biopic of Emily Dickinson staring Cynthia Nixon. Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, about a young man struggling with his sexuality in 1980s Miami, looks like a great watch. In the First Feature Competition, Porto sees one of Anton Yelchin’s final performances, whilst animation My Life As A Courgette looks like a lot of fun. David Lynch: The Art Life is among the contenders for the Documentary Competition, as well as The Graduation. The latter is a documentary about a prestigious film school in Paris. Chasing Asylum, about the Australian government’s immigration policies, seems very topical.


The Salesman

The Love strand features Lovesong, director So Yong Kim’s film about a lonely young mother. It stars Jena Malone and Riley Keough. Highlights in the Debate category include Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman. A Separation‘s Farhadi has already won awards at Cannes. Mindhorn features in the Laugh strand. The film stars Julian Barratt as a washed-up 1980s TV detective. Dare features Christine, starring Rebecca Hall as the notorious television journalist. Paul Schrader’s Dog Eat Dog looks to be a highlight of the Thrill section, with Nicholas Cage starring alongside Willem Dafoe. Another David Lynch connection (Cage and Dafoe starred in Lynch’s Wild at Heart), Blue Velvet Revisited, features in the Cult strand.

I Am Not A Serial Killer

Cult also features I Am Not A Serial Killer, based on the young adult novel. The Innocents looks to be a highlight of the Journey strand. Anne Fontaine’s film is about a young doctor working for the French Red Cross in 1945. London Town, a coming of age film set in 1979 London, features in the Sonic strand. The Family strand includes Rock Dog, an animation featuring the voices of J.K. Simmons and Luke Wilson. Finally, Experimenta includes Have You Seen My Movie?; a must-see for cinema fans.

The full London Film Festival 2016 programme can be viewed here. The BFI London Film Festival runs from 5th-16th October 2016.

Film Review: Sunset Song

Sunset Song

Terence Davies’ Sunset Song is beautifully shot. Yet the film feels overlong, and is not as gratifying as it could be.

In the early 20th Century, Chris Guthrie is growing up. The daughter of a Scottish farmer, Chris reaches maturity at a tumultuous time for her family. As Chris’ life changes, so does the world around her…

Sunset Song tells the story of a changing time in the life of protagonist Chris. A youthful flourish gives way to a more turbulent time as Chris becomes a woman. She sees the troubles of other characters, and certain warnings become poignant later in her life.

The language of the film, from Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s original novel, is beautifully descriptive, and the voiceover has a poetic quality. Nevertheless, despite its beauty, Sunset Song feels like a missed opportunity. The pacing switches from swift to glacial. Important times seem to be covered rather quickly, yet the ending in particular is so leisurely that it adds to an anti-climactic feeling. Part of the issue is that the book is one in a series; but audiences could feel less than satisfied with the conclusion, especially given the film’s running time.

The landscape is a significant part of Sunset Song, and cinematographer Michael McDonough shoots the film marvellously. McDonough captures the beauty of the environment, as well as its severity. Writer-director Davies threads a naturalistic tone through the film, depicting the joys and the hardships that young people faced at the time.

Peter Mullan delivers a commanding performance as Chris’ father. Agyness Deyn does an adequate job as Sunset Song‘s protagonist, although she is not always convincing. It does not help that she is ill cast for the earlier scenes; looking far more mature than her character’s age. Kevin Guthrie shows promise as Ewan, even if his transformation is too harsh.

Sunset Song looks the part of a period drama. Despite its beauty, the film does not captivate as it should.

Film Review: The Deep Blue Sea

Less sharks but better scripted than its almost namesake, Terence Davies’ period drama offers more in visual style than it does in emotion.

Hester attempts to commit suicide. As she lies on the floor waiting for the gas to take affect, Hester looks back as what has lead her to this point. Married to William, a high court judge, Hester embarks on an affair with Freddie, a former pilot who served during the war…

Based on Terence Rattigan’s play, The Deep Blue Sea relies on flashbacks to tell the story of a woman who attempts to commit suicide. The themes of love, adultery and heartbreak abound, yet there is a curious lack of emotion. There is a certain empathy with the main players, but this not translate into any stronger concern about them. A film such as this should be more emotive, yet the climax may leave viewers feeling cold.

Where The Deep Blue Sea does excel is in the beautiful visuals. The cinematography is great; there is some wonderful composition and hues are befitting the tone of the film. The Deep Blue Sea captures the 1950 setting perfectly. The sets, costumes and props reproduce the period superbly.

The performances by Tom Hiddleston as Freddie and Simon Russell Beale as William are entirely convincing. As Hester, Rachel Weisz is less so. Although she is perfect for the character in terms of appearance, at times her delivery feels too drawn out.

The Deep Blue Sea offer a type of visual engorgement that is not replicated in the depth of feeling.

The Deep Blue Sea is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011.

The Deep Blue Sea Preview Video

Rachel Weisz is all over this year’s London Film Festival. Well in both the opening and closing films anyway. Rachel Weisz stars with Tom Hiddleston in Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea. The film, based on Terence Rattigan’s play, is due to close the London Film Festival on 27th October 2011. Above is a brief preview of what viewers can expect from The Deep Blue Sea.