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‘Sunset Song’ Writer-Director Terence Davies on Making Non-Commercial Movies

Critics adore Terence Davies for his cinematic formalism, achingly beautiful images, and portraits of society’s outsiders. Though hailed by his admirers as one of Britain’s greatest living filmmakers, he remains little known on this side of the Pond. That could change with “Sunset Song,” an adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel about a shy farmgirl, which Magnolia releases May 13, as well as “A Quiet Passion,” an Emily Dickinson biopic that earned raves at the Berlin Film Festival.

Do you ever set out to make a big commercial hit?

I haven’t got the talent to think commercially. I wish I did. I’d love to be a household name, like Pampers.

There was a decade between “The House of Mirth” and “The Deep Blue Sea” where you didn’t make narrative features. What happened? 

We were going through another phase in this country of “we’ve got to make films that just make money.” Immediately, no one is interested in me. My films do make their money back, but over a longer period. It is other people’s money — you can’t force them to give it to you — but it was a bleak period.

Why did you find “Sunset Song” cinematic?

It’s an intimate epic. It is one of the great unknown works of Western literature.

You’ve said that you hate being gay. Why do you feel that way?

I was brought up a Catholic, and I was very devout. Because the church never even alluded to things that were not heterosexual, the implication was that you were beyond God’s grace. When I moved to London and I tried to go on to the scene, I just found it so awful. It was sexually rapacious. I thought, if that’s liberation, then I don’t want it. If you live your life based on narcissism and the size of somebody’s genitalia, is life worth living? I don’t think it is.

Do you read reviews of your work?

No. When I was at drama school, somebody said to me, “You should not read any good reviews. Just read the bad ones, and that will give you some sort of inner strength.” Well it doesn’t. It just makes you feel lousy.

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