SUN­SET SONG, drama, rated R, in Scot­tish di­alect with sub­ti­tles, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts,

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Every­thing about the new adap­ta­tion by Bri­tish direc­tor Ter­ence Davies of Lewis Gras­sic Gib­bon’s clas­sic novel of Scot­land in the early 20th cen­tury, is beau­ti­ful. It has the epic sprawl of a

but set in the hard­scrab­ble mi­lieu of ru­ral Scot­land in the years lead­ing up and into World War I. Its Scar­lett O’Hara is Chris Guthrie, a tall, wil­lowy, book­ish girl, played with spirit by new­comer Ag­y­ness Deyn, a for­mer model. The coun­try­side of Aberdeen­shire, cap­tured on 70mm film (the in­te­ri­ors were shot dig­i­tally) by cin­e­matog­ra­pher Michael McDonough, is vast and wild and rav­ish­ing, and the Guthrie farm, Blawea­rie, holds the same place in the hearts and minds (and many ref­er­ences) of its in­hab­i­tants as their much grander plan­ta­tion did for the O’Haras. When you hear a line like “A queer thought came to her — noth­ing en­dures but the land,” it’s easy to find your­self trans­ported back to Tara.

The nat­u­ral beauty is in strik­ing coun­ter­point to the prim­i­tive fierce­ness of life on the bonny banks and braes of the Scot­tish northeast. Chris’ fa­ther, John Guthrie (Peter Mullan), is a flinty, bru­tal re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ist who mer­ci­lessly beats his grown son Will (Jack Green­lees) for mi­nor in­frac­tions, and keeps im­preg­nat­ing his long-suf­fer­ing wife, Jean (Daniela Nar­dini), un­til she can’t take it any more.

When her par­ents die and her brother leaves home, Chris, not yet twenty, takes hold of Blawea­rie. Even­tu­ally she finds ro­mance, with the shy, sweet Ewan Taven­dale (Kevin Guthrie), and their ten­der­ness and pas­sion make you won­der whether Chris’ par­ents could have started out any­thing like that, and whether a sim­i­lar de­cline awaits these young lovers.

The war comes, and brings with it the ugly strains of jin­go­ism, sham­ing, and death. This sec­tion makes a pow­er­ful anti-war state­ment, but it also brings an odd and un­con­vinc­ing char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment that has to been seen to be dis­be­lieved.

Davies gives us many lovely scenes, and many harsh dra­matic ones, but he can’t seem to main­tain a smooth nar­ra­tive flow. is like a patch­work of ex­quis­ite pieces stitched to­gether, many of them sep­a­rately ar­rest­ing, but not cre­at­ing a sat­is­fy­ing whole. The story pro­ceeds in fits and starts, veer­ing off into di­gres­sions, slow­ing, and laps­ing into por­ten­tous si­lences un­der­lined by deep cello strains.

The prose of Gib­bon’s novel is de­liv­ered through a spo­radic nar­ra­tive, voiced by Chris some­what dis­con­cert­ingly in the third per­son (“She was no longer afraid, only sad for the fa­ther she never helped, and for­got how to love.”). What works in con­text on the page doesn’t al­ways trans­late to the film medium. The dia­logue is ren­dered in an au­then­tic north-coun­try brogue, and oc­ca­sion­ally it can be tough on the Amer­i­can ear, but not so much that it jus­ti­fies the de­ci­sion to ren­der the en­tire movie with sub­ti­tles. — Jonathan Richards

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