The Terence Davies Trilogy

The autobiographical films of Terence Davies are not simply nostalgic journeys into the director’s past; they are piercing insights into the filmmaker’s turbulent early life. While Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988), The Long Day Closes (1992) and Of Time and the City (2008) are feature-length depictions of the people and places he knew growing up, the three short films that comprise The Terence Davies Trilogy  – Children (1976), Madonna and Child (1980) and Death and Transfiguration (1983) –are the earliest looks at the filmmaker’s life, focusing on the solitary figure of Robert Tucker. Just as François Truffaut showcased the adventures of Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), his surrogate self, across five films, the character of Tucker (played by a range of actors across the three films) is a stand-in for Davies. Continue reading

Remembering Terence Davies, the Greatest British Director

The late filmmaker was the supreme cinematic poet of memory, and thus of loss and regret.

By Richard Brody

There’s a special pain to the news of the death of the British filmmaker Terence Davies on Saturday at the age of seventy-seven: his career, filled with some of the greatest movies of the past forty years, has always seemed just to be getting started, and, to the end, he kept the exuberant bearing of youth. He was past forty when he made his first feature, “Distant Voices, Still Lives” (1988)—one of the most original of all début features—and he only made eight more, not because he worked slowly but because the money was slow in coming. Although Davies was among the most accomplished of filmmakers, he remained a perpetual beginner, always on the verge of breaking out but never quite getting there. He reached old age with too few films made—a grievous loss to the history of cinema—but with the ardor, the urgency, and the curiosity of youth unabated. He never made a “late” film; no work of his suggests a detached philosophical overview or a foot in the beyond. The paradoxes and complexities of his character run through his output and his life—and they were also very much on the surface, on public display.

I had the honor and the pleasure of meeting Davies on several occasions (including onstage, in 2016, at The New Yorker Festival). In person, he was hearty and vigorous, wryly and effervescently humorous, a trait that spilled over into his cinematic taste: he expressed unflagging enthusiasm for classic Hollywood musicals at every chance he got, whether in front of an audience at moma, about a decade ago, or in his ballot for the 2022 Sight and Sound poll. Yet his own films were marked by a keen sense of ambient tragedy and often scarred by the horrors of war. The American experience of the Second World War shapes “The Neon Bible,” and the British experience of it shapes “The Deep Blue Sea.” (A scene of Londoners seeking shelter in an Underground station during a German bombing raid is one of his most spectacular creations.) The Civil War is an important part of his Emily Dickinson bio-pic “A Quiet Passion,” and the First World War is decisive in “Sunset Song.” It is also the very heart of his last film, “Benediction,” a bio-pic about the poet Siegfried Sassoon. Continue reading

A poet of pain, ecstasy and epiphany, Terence Davies is a colossal loss to British cinema

Thank goodness Davies experienced his late-career appreciation – he was a director of high seriousness and singularity and a man of vulnerability and true good humour

By Peter Bradshaw

Terence Davies was the great British movie artist of working class Catholic experience and gay identity, a passionate believer and practitioner of cinema. And was also a wonderfully stylish and self-assured presence in person, with a gorgeously resonant voice that might have belonged to a stage matinee idol.

I raised a glass of rose with a beaming Davies and Mark Cousins at the 2008 Cannes film festival after the triumphant premiere of Of Time and the City, Davies’s wonderful, personal docu-collage about his home city of Liverpool, a place he resurrected on screen with love and without cliche.

And from that moment, he had the satisfaction of knowing that the years of relative neglect that he had been suffering as a film-maker were over, and that he was a presence again in world cinema.

He was one of the great personal and autobiographical film-makers – with Of Time and the City, of course, but also his fervent evocation of childhood in The Long Day Closes (1992), his unflinchingly passionate and painful masterpiece Distant Voices, Still Lives (1983) and his early, mysterious trilogy Children (1976), Madonna and Child (1980) and Death and Transfiguration (1983) – superb films which, in literary terms, might be compared with Beckett or BS Johnson.

The key word is transfiguration. For Davies, the act of memory and cinema transfigured the pain and shame of what he endured of abuse and bigotry in his own life. Without irony or affectation, he brought his early religious belief into parallel with these childhood experiences: these were his stations of the cross. Like Proust, he saw the awful link between art and pain as the agents of truth and the fixity of meaning.

His films – especially his earliest and most personal works – were not easy experiences, nor were they meant to be. His Distant Voices, Still Lives is unforgettable, perhaps because the adjectives in the title are so misleading. The voices are immediately present, the lives vividly in motion. The film’s austerity, beauty and artistry are a revelation. It is as gripping as any thriller and Davies finds a towering performance in the great actor Pete Postlethwaite as the terrifying dad who rules over his working class family with fear – but is secretly convulsed with fear himself and is capable of humour and gentleness. Davies’s attitude is complex, and in this film you can see another of his great themes: the urge to forgive and the terrible burden it places on you.

The Long Day Closes, from 1992, was another epiphanic study of childhood, a cine-poem of early experience and here Davies – like Fellini, Scorsese, Truffaut and Spielberg – evokes the moviegoing as a religious observance, but with pleasure where the shame and misery might otherwise go. His shot of sunlight drifting across a carpet is a thing of wonder: these are things that children look at and adults forget to see.

As the 90s wore on, Davies found it more difficult to get movies made, but his adaptation of John Kennedy Toole’s The Neon Bible in 1995 transferred his distinctive worldview to an American setting.

So too did his superb treatment of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth in 2000, starring Gillian Anderson, a Wharton adaptation that easily stands comparison with Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence.

In his later career, Davies took on literary adaptations – conceding, perhaps, that these were more commercially acceptable and produced them at the highest pitch of intelligence and feeling. His version of Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea in 2011 was a very Daviesian account of loneliness and romantic love with Tom Hiddleston and Rachel Weisz; he brought the same intensity and severity to Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song in 2015. His last film, Benediction, was a fine study of the war poet Siegfried Sassoon, returning, to some degree, to his earlier themes of gay sexuality and the way secular passions are displaced into forms of worship.

He had lately been working on a tremendous sounding adaptation of Stefan Zweig’s The Post Office Girl – and we have to hope that this might yet be posthumously completed.

I should also record the rather extraordinary experience of recording an audio commentary with him and Matthew Guinness (son of Alec) of the Ealing movie Kind Hearts and Coronets. For him, communing with this classic was an almost ecstatic experience, a virtual seance of every creative contributor to the film, he seemed to know every line, every scene, every musical cue; his connoisseurship was compelling. He was a remarkable director.

Source: A poet of pain, ecstasy and epiphany, Terence Davies is a colossal loss to British cinema

Director Terence Davies reveals challenges of Siegfried Sassoon biopic

Terrence Davies says it was “hard to write” his Siegfried Sassoon biopic, Benediction, because “there was so much material”.

Terrence Davies says it was “hard to write” his Siegfried Sassoon biopic, Benediction, because “there was so much material”.

The biographical drama, which stars Jack Lowden as Sassoon, tells of the story of the famed British poet whose anti-war stance notoriously culminated in his admission to a military psychiatric hospital.

Benediction also explores the soldier’s gay love affairs with Ivor Novello (Jeremy Irvine), Stephen Tennant (Calam Lynch) and Glen Byam Shaw (Tom Blyth), as well as his conversion to Catholicism.

Davies, one of the most critically-acclaimed British filmmakers of all time, tells GAY TIMES that taking on the project was a “daunting” prospect.

“How do you cram his life into two hours?” he says. “It was a question of what to leave out more than anything else. It was quite hard to write in that sense, as there was so much material. I tried to respond to the things which I could write about.”

The director resonated with Sassoon due to his homosexuality and poetry documenting the horrors of the First World War.

Davies also identified with Sassoon’s search for redemption, admitting: “I think that’s the most autobiographical part of the film. I’ve been searching for that redemption and I haven’t found it either.”

His only “issue” with the poet and his illustrious life, however, is his foray into Catholicism.

“Why anyone would want to be Catholic? It’s interesting because when you are born a Catholic, you don’t have to go through any time of conversion. The conversion goes on and on and on,” he states.

“It had to be incorporated because I didn’t know about that side of the church, as I was never involved in it. To manage that life within two hours…. It was those things that drew me to the picture.”


With an intimate sex scene between Sassoon and Novello, Benediction doesn’t shy away from Sassoon’s queerness. This was important for Davies, as well as depicting a less glamorous approach to sex.

“That’s what is so tedious about sex scenes, everyone has makeup on!” Davies says of how intimacy is depiction in the mainstream. “They look like they have been to the gym, and nobody ever gets cramps. Nobody ever farts!

“That’s why I almost wanted to make this more matter-of-fact.”

Benediction has received universal critical acclaim for Davies’ direction and script, as well as for the performances of Lowden and Peter Capaldi, who portrays an older Siegfried Sassoon.

Davies, whose filmography includes lauded autobiographical dramas such as Distant Voices, Still Lives, The Long Day Closes and Of Time and the City, reveals that his next film is based on Stefan Zwieg’s The Post Office Girl.

The novel chronicles the story of Christine Hoflehner, a post-office clerk in an impoverished post-World War I Austrian city.

“The script is done. I would love to do that as it’s a marvellous novel,” he says. “A novel that he never finished, he just tinkered with it. It gives the ending the most extraordinary, ambitious ending which is terrific.

“It’s about the destruction of hope and it’s very powerful.”

Benediction is now available in UK cinemas.

Source: Exclusive: Benediction director Terence Davies reveals challenges of Siegfried Sassoon biopic