December 16, 2016 -- David Gerrold wrote, “Life is hard, then you die ...” This film is all about that. It has lovely images and songs, but the story is relentlessly downbeat with murders, suicide, executions and brutal physical and mental abuse.
The strong central character of the film is a handsome, tall young woman, Chris Guthrie (played by Agyness Deyn of “Clash of the Titans”). She is smart, and has aspirations to become a teacher, until her mother dies and she has to take over the household duties. Her older brother, Will (Jack Greenlees) can't stand their abusive father, John (Peter Mullan of “War Horse”) and finally moves away from home.
Eventually, through tragic events Chris is left alone on the farm with a tidy inheritance. She decides to marry a local farmer, Ewan Tavendale (Kevin Guthrie of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”) and live the life of a farmer's wife. Things actually work out pretty well for them, but then World War I intervenes in their life.
Ewan marches off to war, none too happily, it seems, after being shamed into joining the army by locals. This is a bit hard to figure, since Scotland had suffered centuries of oppression and domination by England. You wouldn't think there would be a lot of support for going to war for the sake of England, but over 700,000 Scots did just that. Ewen's character development is more than a little shortchanged in this film.
Anyway, Chris ends up with a child, and more tragedy, framed by the beautiful hills and fields of, maybe Scotland, or New Zealand, where this film was shot, in part (also, some of it was filmed in Luxembourg). There are some lovely songs in the film, including a couple of nice renditions of “The Floo'ers o' the Forest,” along with the better known songs “Wayfaring Stranger,” “Auld Lang Syn” and “Ladies of Spain.” The cinematography by Michael McDonough (“Winter's Bone”) beautifully renders the stark hilly landscape.
Terrible things happen to the people in this film, based on the renowned book by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, but the story is captivating nonetheless, if, for no other reason than a morbid curiosity over what awful thing will befall these characters next. From what I've read, the book has even more awful, twisted events in it than what is seen in this film. Some of this is hinted at, but thankfully not shown in graphic detail in this film.
This is not exactly my kind of film, but I liked it anyway. It is certainly well acted, and the production values are solid. Director Terrence Davies (“The Deep Blue Sea”) seems to be drawn to this kind of dark material. Although the story is a downer, there is a kind of noble enduring spirit shown by Chris throughout the film, and that helps a lot. This film rates a B.
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