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Terence Davies (#110 of 15)

Toronto Film Review Terence Davies’s A Quiet Passion

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Toronto Film Review: Terence Davies’s A Quiet Passion

Toronto International Film Festival

Toronto Film Review: Terence Davies’s A Quiet Passion

One great artist engages with another in A Quiet Passion, a bold and brilliant study of the American poet Emily Dickinson by British writer-director Terence Davies. The film is as strange, in its way, as its lead character’s inimitable way with words: Structurally it resembles a straightforward biopic, following Dickinson—played by Emma Bell in the early scenes and a marvelous, moving Cynthia Nixon for the rest—from her brief tenure as a defiant Mount Holyoke student (“a no-hoper” says her scold of a headmistress) through her sequestered life, and eventual kidney-related death, at the family home in Amherst, Massachusetts. Within this familiar A-to-B form, however, Davies does almost nothing obvious.

Toronto International Film Festival 2015 Sunset Song and Son of Saul

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Toronto International Film Festival 2015: Sunset Song and Son of Saul

Dean MacKenzie

Toronto International Film Festival 2015: Sunset Song and Son of Saul

She rises from the fields, acres of grain flowing as far as the eye can see, like a mythical creature. Innocent and pure. Unaware of anything but the beauty that surrounds her—that, indeed, seems to emanate from her. This is Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn), the heroine of Terence Davies’s exquisite Sunset Song, which the writer-director adapted from Lewis Grassic Gibbons’s highly regarded 1932 novel of the same name. A staple of Scottish classrooms, the book details young Chris’s coming of age with her farming family in the fictional estate of Kinraddie circa the early 20th century. (It’s also the first part of a trilogy; the subsequent installments are 1933’s Cloud Howe and 1934’s Grey Granite.)

Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions Adapted Screenplay

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Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Adapted Screenplay
Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

If not bound to have the most impressive lineup, this category may just yield the season’s most deserving win, as Tony Kushner’s script for Lincoln remains miles ahead of the competition, standing, like its subject, in a class by itself. This article is, indeed, intended to outline the predicted nominees, but there are certain Oscar fields whose frontrunner dominates the conversation, and the truth is, Kushner’s path to the podium is even more secured than Daniel Day-Lewis’s. Agog at all the tack-sharp, workplace chattiness, many viewers have employed the term “Sorkinian” when describing Lincoln’s narrative, summing it up as The West Wing for the 19th century. But that analogy doesn’t come close to capturing Kushner’s evenhanded humanism, or his uncanny talents for pacing and characterization, which, together, keep this historical epic as nimble as it is organically populated, filled with individuals who, somehow, seem fully drawn in mere moments. Of course, there’s also the whole laborious research element, which, among other things, saw Kushner whittle his translation of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals down from an initial 500-page draft.

Understanding Screenwriting #93: The Deep Blue Sea, A Separation, Pauline Kael, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #93: <em>The Deep Blue Sea</em>, <em>A Separation</em>, Pauline Kael, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #93: <em>The Deep Blue Sea</em>, <em>A Separation</em>, Pauline Kael, & More

Coming Up In This Column: The Deep Blue Sea, A Separation, The Forgiveness of Blood, The Kid With a Bike, Salt of Life, Letters to Young Filmmakers: Creativity & Getting Your Film Made (book), Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark (book), but first…

Fan Mail: I will take David Ehrentstein at his word that he was serious about Mandingo (1975) is one of the best films about race in America, but I am not sure anybody else will. On Smash’s Ellis I don’t think I made it clear that I think he is bi as well. And I agree completely with David that the “Don’t Say Yes Until I Finish Talking” number is the best one so far in Smash. That episode had not shown up at the time I wrote US#92. Interesting though that they only showed the rehearsal/audition version and did not cut to the fully produced number as they sometimes do. Well, some people can look forward to seeing all those chorus boys in just their towels.

The Deep Blue Sea (2011. Screenplay by Terence Davies, adapted from the play by Terence Rattigan. 98 minutes.)

Terence, meet Terence: Terence Rattigan (1911-1977) was one of the leading British playwrights of the middle of the twentieth century. The period of his greatest success was from 1946 to 1956. His dramas were literate and restrained, usually about members of the upper class stifling their emotions. His work became almost instantaneously unfashionable with the arrival of the Angry Young Men playwrights like John Osborne. But even before his death, Rattigan’s reputation began to regain some of its luster, as did the reputation of his contemporary Noël Coward, and for some of the same reasons. Both wrote dramas about people with restrained emotions, which gives actors a lot of subtext to play. Both were also extraordinary theatrical craftsmen, especially in the area of dramatic structure.

A Lover’s Discourse: Terence Davies’s Films

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A Lover’s Discourse: Terence Davies’s Films
A Lover’s Discourse: Terence Davies’s Films

In a dark room, two women regard each other, the older one cloaked in shadow, the younger one better lit but turned away. The older is caring for her sick husband, wrapped up in bed sheets, while the younger thinks of killing herself due to the pangs of lost, despised love. “Sometimes it’s tough to judge when you’re caught between the devil and the deep blue sea,” she says, a little bent over, to which her staunch, stiff counterpart snaps back: “A lot of rubbish is talked about love. You know what real love is? It’s wiping someone’s ass, or changing the sheets when they’ve wet themselves, and letting ’em keep their dignity so you can both go on. Suicide? No one’s worth it.”

The moment comes late in Terence Davies’s new film, The Deep Blue Sea, which opens theatrically tomorrow, and a sneak preview of which began the BAMcinématek’s retrospective of the British director’s nine-film career (next week, Film Forum will screen a new 35mm print of 1992’s gently gliding The Long Day Closes). This Deep Blue Sea scene, coming late into the story of a London woman struggling to move on post-WWII and post-love, in some ways sets the tone for all of Davies’s work.