16 September 2016 Susannah

Film adaptations of the classics

Sunset Song photo by Hurricane Films

In 2005 there was a poll in Scotland, asking the Scots to vote for their favourite book. I’d have expected Stevenson’s superb Kidnapped to win, but the winner was Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon (whose real name was James Leslie Mitchell), a novel published in 1932.

Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Lewis Grassic Gibbon was the pseudonym of James Leslie Mitchell. Public Domain

This is the story of Chris Guthrie, a young woman growing up in an area called The Mearns in north-east Scotland. It is the first novel in a trilogy known as A Scot’s Quair (the other two books are Cloud Howe and Grey Granite). I first read Sunset Song about ten years ago and was blown away by it. It felt like reading a poem – the language was so beautiful. Chris, who wants to learn and read, is a fabulous heroine, but her story is a tragic one as she is tied to the land, an abusive father and rural poverty. I did not love the sequels, but Sunset Song is a moving, stunning book. However, it is written in Scot’s dialect, which probably explains why it is not very well known outside of Scotland. I have taken tour groups to the Lewis Grassic Gibbon Centre in Arbuthnott, and visited his grave in the tiny church there (he has an open book as part of the headstone, which is a nice touch). The story of Sunset Song opens just before World War I and shows the changes brought by war and mechanisation to a countryside which has remained essentially unchanged for centuries. When the novel was published it was considered very shocking because of its frankness concerning sex, childbirth, and the sexual attraction between Chris and Ewan Tavendale.

There have been several film and TV adaptations, but the latest one, which I saw this month, was directed by Terence Davies (who did The House of Mirth). A recent review of the movie in the Sydney Morning Herald described the novel as a “Presbyterian Gone with the Wind“. I was initially doubtful about that description, but the film did have the sort of epic quality, the suffering and the attachment to the land one finds in Margaret Mitchell’s classic. I absolutely loved the film and came out in tears. The Scottish scenery was utterly beautiful (Scotland is one of my favourite countries in the world and I could look at Scottish scenery for ever!) and the quotes directly from the novel, read so beautifully, were extremely moving. It is a sad film, but a fabulous one. Give yourselves a treat and go and see it soon.

Have you seen the new movie Sunset Song?  Give us your film review by sharing your comments below.

 

For further reading:

   Project Gutenberg: Lewis Grassic Gibbon Sunset Song

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Featured image credit- Sunset Song photo by Hurricane Films | Promotional photo via IMDB. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2262161/
Body image credit- Lewis Grassic Gibbon by Unidentify – Internet, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17663549

Comments (8)

  1. Petrina

    Many thanks for the recommendation, but not a film to see unless you are feeling in a cheerful mood!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, it is a tragic story, so you don’t come out up-beat or happy, but it shows how war ruined lives in small communities.

  2. Margi Abraham

    I agree that Sunset Song is a beautifully filmed and acted tragedy which moved me to tears. However, I have to say the pace was just too slow and the film too long (at over 2 hours)and this detracted from its impact.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Have you read the book, Margi? I think that probably makes a difference. But, yes, it is a long movie and I guess we all get used to a film usually being less than two hours.

  3. Angela Rodd

    I also loved the film, and as a keen knitter I adored the hand knitted shawls and collars worn by Chris. The interiors and costumes were superb, and yes, the Scottish scenery ( although I think I’m correct in saying that some outdoor scenes were shot in New Zealand because the weather is more reliable) was marvellous.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am so glad you also enjoyed the film, Angela. Yes, it seems some scenes were shot in NZ which seems a pity, much as I love NZ scenery. Perhaps it was cheaper than filming in Scotland?

  4. My husband and I saw the movie Sunset Song last weekend. We were both so moved by the story,the beautiful cinematography and the language. Although I missed quite a bit of the dialogue because of the Scottish accent, it did not worry me. I just let the language wash over me. I can imagine that the book would have caused a stir, especially in puritan circles.
    What a tough life for everybody. Makes me very grateful for living in this day and age.
    I was away last month and have only just got round to reading the October issue of your blog.a pity.
    And yes, we felt pretty downcast when we came out of the cinema but still think it was excellent and it certainly gave us plenty to talk about.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      The Scots have just done another poll about their favourite Scottish novel, and once again ‘Sunset Song’ came out at no. 1. I am so glad you found it moving. It certainly depicts a hard, grim sort of life, but it must have been like that for so many.

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