Gibbon’s Sunset Song finally set for big screen

Peter Mullan will star in the big screen adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Sunset Song. Picture: Contributed
Peter Mullan will star in the big screen adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Sunset Song. Picture: Contributed
Share this article
Have your say

IT is revered as one of the most important Scottish novels of the 20th century. But despite its classic status, efforts to bring Sunset Song to the big screen have toiled for more around 15 years - until now.

Cameras are finally about to start rolling in the Aberdeenshire countryside where Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s story of a young woman’s struggles growing up in a dysfunctonal family in a farming community is set. However it has emerged that key scenes have already been shot Down Under by the lead actors in the eagerly-awaited production.

But the film-makers - including Edinburgh-based producer Bob Last, who worked on animated feature The Illusionist, mainly filmed in the capital - have revealed they have already travelled to the other side of the world to shoot some scenes - with a specially harvested-crop on a farm in New Zealand standing in for the Mearns landscape where Sunset Song unfolds.

Last, who has reunited with Liverpool-born director Terence Davies on the project, insisted the move was necessary to help keep production costs down during the shoot, which has to reflect the changing of the seasons in rural Aberdeenshire, where Grassic Gibbon himself was born and brought up.

Two images of the film’s main stars - English actress Agyness Deyn, a former model, and veteran Glasgow actor Peter Mullan - show them in the rolling Christchurch countryside during the harvest season in the fictional parish of Kinraddie.

Published in 1932, Sunset Song was the first in what became to became to be known as the author’s “A Scots Quair” trilogy. The BBC turned the book into a TV series in 1971 and in 2005 Sunset Song was named the “Best Scottish Book of All Time” at the Edinburgh International Book Festival after a six-week poll.

Creative Scotland, the national arts agency, is ploughing £450,000 into the film version of Sunset Song, which also features Sunshine on Leith star Kevin Guthrie, the first feature to benefit from the lifting of the ceiling for grants for film productions, which was previously £300,000. BBC Scotland is also backing the new film.

But a month-long shoot of interior work on the film and some scenes during the First World War will be going ahead in Luxembourg after its film agency offered to help bankroll the production to the tune of £1.5 million.

Last told The Scotsman he had started speaking to Davies about adapting Sunset Song shortly after they had finished making The House of Mirth, the film which brought X Files star Gillian Anderson to Scotland, in the late 1990s.

He said: “I have to admit I’d never actually read the book myself when Terence recommended it to me, but we’ve been pretty much been trying to get it made ever since and it was only last year that we managed to get all the funding in place.

“We were always going to have to do the location filming in a short period of time, that’s the way the industry works. You can’t put everyone on a film on hold for a whole year, your overheads would be huge.

“But the different seasons are a very important part of the story in Sunset Song. We couldn’t film all together in any one location without using digital effects, but by going to New Zealand we were able to create the harvest scenes there.

“We have built all the sets for the interior filming - and an outdoor First World War trench - in Luxembourg, where we’re filming for around a month, but we’re going to be filming for two weeks at the end of April in Aberdeenshire.

“I’ve driven through the area many times. It has a sort of harshness combined with a rich agricultural landscape, which is a pretty unique combination.”

There was never any question of us not filming this in Scotland, although the reason we are going to Luxembourg is that they are part putting a very significant sum of money into the production.”

A Creative Scotland spokeswoman said: “We are delighted to have invested in partnership with the BFI, Luxembourg Film Fund and BBC Scotland on this cultural project to realise a classic Scottish novel.

“It’s great to see an iconic and well-known Scottish story being translated to the big screen by an internationally renowned director.”