Ever the pictorialist, Terence Davies opens his adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon's 1932 novel by panning over a field of rippling wheat, from which the 18-year-old heroine (Agyness Deyn) suddenly sits up. The shot asserts her strong bond to the farming country of northeast Scotland, which holds her despite a life of hardship: her mother commits suicide rather than bear a seventh child, her hardened father (an especially scary Peter Mullan) ritually beats her older brother (Jack Greenlees), and her loving marriage to a local lad (Kevin Guthrie) turns dark after his service in World War I provokes in him a savagery reminiscent of her father's. The story's extreme physical and emotional violence poses a challenge to a lyrical master like Davies, and his staging of the domestic drama can seem slow and somber. But Deyn gives a vivid performance as the daughter, a quiet but determined survivor in a patriarchal society; whenever she steps out into the wider world, the movie soars.
By J.R. Jones