Agyness Deyn’s Chris was the focus of the campaign for Sunset Song, the latest movie from director Terence Davies, before it came out earlier this year. That’s a good thing, but it’s Chris that provides everything that’s good about the movie itself as we follow her story over a number of years.
The story isn’t hugely complex: Chris is the daughter of a Irish farmer who is, to say the least, a hard man. While she’s not fiercely independent in the traditional sense of stories like this she has a self-sufficient streak that keeps her motivated and focused no matter what life throws at her. A beautiful girl, she catches the eye of Ewan, a boy in the area and they eventually wed. After their first son is born he goes to fight in World War I and comes back a changed man, much more violent and arrogant than he was. While his fate is something I won’t reveal here, through all this and more Chris continues to be strong, providing for herself and her family with or without a husband or father to look after her.
As I said, the campaign made it clear that Chris is the main character and that it would be her perspective we’d be following throughout the movie and that’s very much the case. Deyn is certainly up to that challenge, appearing in almost every frame here. While her performance occasionally comes off as one-note, that’s actually in keeping with the character, who’s presented as stoic and reliable, a woman who will take care of herself and her emotions, thank you very much. That’s not to say there aren’t emotional shadings to her performance, but overall Chris is presented as being a constant and so it’s understandable that there isn’t a great swing in her character from beginning to end. If anything, she becomes more stoic as the people in her life continue to disappoint and leave.
It’s also a simple story that’s told about simple folk. By which I don’t mean there’s no complexity. The village where Chris and her family lives is as full of its own politics and structures as any other that must be navigated. But there are no machinations at play here, no one trying to outmaneuver each other. The most striking moment is when Chris makes a choice near the beginning of the movie that is absolutely in line with the character but shows just how far she’s willing to go to obtain a better life for herself and her siblings. It’s remarkable in its brutality.
There are minor quibbles I could make with how the movie was presented in the campaign compared to the finished thing, but the sense of the movie in the marketing was pretty on-point, so anyone going in shouldn’t have, and won’t be surprised when they watch it. Sunset Song is streaming on Netflix now if you’d like to check it out for yourself.