Monday, 9 May 2011

The Long Day Closes by Terence Davies

British film in the public imagination usually means one of two things: that shark's grin on a stick, Keira Knightley, trolling about in period costume or "real lives" framed and given over to the pity and condescension of a paying audience.

Then there's Terence Davies.

Davies makes everything beautiful and alive. The early sight of a dark, unpeopled street with rain and music falling  was a remarkable way in. "She moved through the fair" sung softly as the boy sits in silence on his mother's lap; the light passing across a faded carpet that looks like a sea of grass; smoke rising from cigarettes in the cinema seamlessly shifting to the congregants at mass:  all these scenes, quietly and plainly shown, become vehicles for the viscera of love, the wanting of beauty and the ache for memory. He has the quietness of childhood framed here: still moments in which the meaning hidden in surfaces and light and ordinary conversation bears on us. The boy in tears in the coal cellar toward the end of the film stays with me as a shewing of a loneliness that can only just be born.

Davies' allegiance is to the truth rather than any notion of reality. He's in the world but not of it. While there is much to admire and align with in the political will of directors like Ken Loach, there's little beauty and nothing of the fabular magic that you find in The Long Day Closes. Davies knows that we have to tell each other stories, sing to each other, lose ourselves in other people's dreams and make them our own. Socialism without a place for these things is dead.

Loach and his like lift the cover on a great forgetting and this matters. But it's other things that keep returning to me - primal scenes rising slowly to the surface. I can never rid myself of the image first seen at the age of eight of Kathleen Byron corroding Deborah Kerr's ego with her eyes in Black Narcissus. Or Kenneth More's face worn with guilt as he listens to the desperate cries of his crew in The Cruel Sea.

The best films haunt us for a long time.


  1. The reflectiveness, the slow pacing, the "meaning hidden in surfaces", "the wanting of beauty and the ache for memory", the sense of both weight and revelation in the past, and -- as you suggest -- the pointed absence of political will... make this a great film and Davies a great artist. Few may care or notice. But some do and will.

    Many thanks, WB

  2. I'm very glad Davies matters to you too, TC. It's good to find myself among the few with your good self.