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Its austere beauty, artistry and wrenching sadness are undimmed after 30 years, and there is nothing distant or still about it. Terence Davies’s early autobiographical masterpiece from 1988, is now rereleased in cinemas, and for all the formal technique and the theatrically controlled tableaux, the drama is vividly present and alive.
These are Davies’s scenes from the life of a white working-class family in Liverpool, during and after the second world war, scenes summoned up out of order by the family’s memories. They are ruled over by a terrifying dad. This is an impressive performance from the great Pete Postlethwaite – an abusive, violent man who might now be diagnosed with depression, but is nonetheless capable of humour and gentleness. Equally great is Freda Dowie as Mum, almost wordlessly radiating stoicism and goodness. It is virtually a silent movie performance. Angela Walsh, Dean Williams and Lorraine Ashbourne play their children, Eileen, Tony and Maisie, enduring a brutally tough childhood only marginally improved by their father’s death, destined to replicate their parents’ gender power relations in their own marriages, and consumed with unreconciled anger, love and hate. It is almost unbearable when Eileen, on her wedding day, breaks down and sobs: “I miss my dad.” And Debi Jones, who after this film went on to a career in broadcasting and politics, deserves Hall of Fame status for her glorious performance as Eileen’s funny friend Micky.
This is a portrait of the working class that is the opposite of Noël Coward’s in This Happy Breed. Yet there is the same sense of place: the idea that the same parlour, the same hallway, the same front step, could be the scene for important moments: weddings and funerals. Perhaps 1988 was the last time when audiences might have had memories of family pub singsongs from the postwar era. It is remarkable how Davies holds your attention with nothing more than those extended scenes of people singing. The songs have everything: drama, comedy, tragedy. It is very moving and as gripping as any thriller.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Distant Voices, Still Lives review – vividly present autobiographical masterpiece | Film