You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Toronto: Terence Davies on ‘Sunset Song,’ Agyness Deyn and Preferring the Past

Terence Davies is the first to admit that he is, to put it bluntly, out of touch. “I don’t understand the modern world,” he says cheerfully, his mellifluous vowels crackling down the phone from Toronto, where he’s just arrived for this year’s festival. “I’m a shameless Luddite; I prefer a romantic world that doesn’t quite exist anymore.”

It’s that very admission, however, that has made Davies one of Britain’s most treasured filmmakers. From his early short films to his much garlanded 1988 debut “Distant Voices, Still Lives” to 2011’s Rachel Weisz-starring Terence Rattigan adaptation “The Deep Blue Sea,” the writer-director’s work has been colored by a kind of wistful nostalgia, honouring both the romance and resilience of previous generations.

Unspooling as a Special Presentation in Toronto, Davies’ seventh — and most epically scaled — feature “Sunset Song” maintains that reflective sensibility. Adapted from a celebrated 1932 novel by Scottish author Lewis Grassic Gibbon, the film chronicles the struggle of a young woman (played by Agyness Deyn) to maintain her family farm in northeast Scotland, in the face of personal tragedy and the blight of the First World War.

Davies encountered the novel via its BBC television adaptation in 1971, well before the former bookkeeper’s film career had begun. He admits that the dense volume “rewards perseverance,” but was immediately moved by its “very primal” tale.

“It’s a story in which all suffering is forgiven and accepted,” he explains. “The ending is quite sublime.” As in a number of his films, the enduring comforts and conflicts of family are crucial to its narrative. “Family is macrocosm of all that is wonderful and terrible in our lives, and it’s a journey we all go through,” he continues, citing Vincente Minnelli’s 1944 film “Meet Me in St. Louis” as the ultimate template for exploring this dynamic on screen.

Classic Hollywood cinema is a constant reference point for Davies, particularly the love stories and melodramas referred to then “women’s pictures”: “I grew up in an era where women were the heroes on screen, and that had a great influence on me. But you can’t imitate those films; you can only reflect and refract them in your own.”

He cites something of a Joan Fontaine quality in Dean, the 32-year-old supermodel-turned-actress. “She has one of those extraordinary faces that can look 11 years old in one shot, and womanly in another,” he says, admitting that he had no idea who she was when she arrived to audition. “I don’t know pop culture at all; I thought she was just a new actress. But as soon as her audition began, I felt something in my stomach.”

Davies began developing the script for “Sunset Song” 15 years ago, but with the film now complete, the director’s famously deliberate work pace has quickened up. He’s presently cutting “A Quiet Passion,” a Cynthia Nixon-starring biopic of the 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson that reps his first U.S.-set project since 1995’s “The Neon Bible.” Also in the works is an adaptation of Richard McCann’s interwoven short story collection “Mother of Sorrows,” the narrative of which will span several decades leading up to 1980 — “That’s as up to date as I get,” he chuckles.

It’s a run of activity that he attributes only to “sheer luck.” “People tell me I’m more prolific these days, but I’m getting help with that,” he says wryly. “Still, I’m almost 70. I’m not a kid anymore.”

More Film

  • WGA West Logo

    WGA Plans March 25 Member Vote on Talent Agency Rules

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America plan a March 25 vote for members to decide whether to implement tough new restrictions on how Hollywood talent agencies as operate as agents for writer clients. The vote comes as the guild is in the midst of pitched negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents to renew [...]

  • Netflix Buys Chinese Sci-fi Hit 'Wandering

    Netflix Buys Chinese Sci-fi Hit 'Wandering Earth'

    Global streaming giant, Netflix has bought rights to “The Wandering Earth,“ the smash hit film which is pitched as China’s first mainstream sci-fi movie. The film was the sleeper hit of Chinese New Year — it opened in fourth position on Feb. 5 — but climbed to the top spot and has not yet relinquished [...]

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Film News Roundup: Michael B. Jordan's Hitman Drama 'Silver Bear' Gets Director

    In today’s film news roundup, Michael B. Jordan’s “The Silver Bear” finds a director, biopic “Running for My Life” is in the works, Fox is using new trailer compliance software and the 14-hour “La Flor” gets distribution. DIRECTOR ATTACHMENT Gerard McMurray, director of “The First Purge,” will write and direct Michael B. Jordan’s thriller “The [...]

  • Kevin Costner Diane Lane

    Kevin Costner, Diane Lane to Reunite in Suspense Thriller 'Let Him Go'

    Focus Features has tapped Kevin Costner and Diane Lane to star as a husband and wife in the suspense thriller “Let Him Go.” The two also collaborated on “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” as the parents of Superman. Thomas Bezucha (“The Family Stone”) is set to direct his own screenplay, [...]

  • Chris Hemsworth Hulk Hogan

    Chris Hemsworth to Play Hulk Hogan in Biopic for Netflix

    Netflix is in the early stages of developing a Hulk Hogan biopic with Chris Hemsworth attached to star as the wrestling legend and produce. Netflix has obtained the exclusive life rights and consulting services from Terry Gene Bollea AKA Hulk Hogan. Todd Phillips, whose credits include “War Dogs” and “The Hangover” trilogy, is attached to [...]

  • Rooftop Films Announces Filmmakers Fund Grant

    Rooftop Films Announces Filmmakers Fund Grant Winners

    Swedish documentary filmmaker Anastasia Kirillova and “Negative Space” co-directors Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter are among the filmmakers who will receive grants from Rooftop Films to help complete their upcoming projects. Kirilova will be awarded $20,000 to finish her film, “In the Shadows of Love,” while collaborators Kuwahata and Porter will receive $10,000 for “Dandelion [...]

  • Jim Gianopulos

    Paramount Chief Jim Gianopulos Unveils Diversity Initiative

    Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos has announced that all studio productions will be required to complete a plan to enhance diversity. Wednesday’s reveal follows Paramount’s commitment to participating in Time’s Up and Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s 4% Challenge. The name is derived from women having directed only 4% of the country’s top grossing movies [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content