As one might expect from a sprawling, multi-generational epic about love and hardship in a farming community, Sunset Song really has its peaks and valleys. To its credit, the film is unswervingly earnest, charting the life of a Scottish girl growing up in the pre-war Highlands, but that dedication brings both blessings and curses. The picturesque scenery and intricate set dressing present the period beautifully and the stunning mountainous panoramas are practically a character in their own right. They bring a sense of dramatic consequence to even the smallest events in the film’s two-hour development, and the story itself is very small scale indeed.
Alongside the beautiful setting, it becomes quickly apparent just how heavily scripted Sunset Song is. Adapted from Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel of the same name, the film always feels inherently literary and not in a good way: Though the actors may be giving it their all, the dialogue always sounds extremely forced and unnatural, due to the extensive contortions of old Scottish country speak. There’s no accounting for “things people would actually say”, which is an automatic barrier for audiences who don’t know, for instance, what “bairns” are. Similarly, the film very easily devolves into grim and weepy melodrama, taking itself extremely seriously. Between the snow and mud outside and the death and domestic abuse indoors, there’s little room for levity or hope. Such tragedy comes across as extremely powerful and moving at the outset, but tedious and exhausting by the end.
Yet Sunset Song isn’t charmless, particularly with a cast of actors who are all bringing their best, despite being relatively unknown. Agyness Deyn as Chris provides an extremely likeable heart to the film and handsome Kevin Guthrie surprises as a late arrival who, nonetheless, makes a strong impact. As a stage show, this story would be wonderfully compelling, but on the silver screen, and with so much of its ilk preceding it, Sunset Song struggles to justify itself. Indeed, it comes across as so bookish that this is one adaptation that should have remained on the page.
Sunset Song is released nationwide on 4th December 2015.
Watch the trailer for Sunset Song here: