Review: Distant Voices, Still Lives

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Freda Dowie in Distant Voices, Still Lives
Freda Dowie in Distant Voices, Still Lives



A re-release from one of the most distinctive cineastes in British film. Terence Davies’s 1988 maundering autobiographical film (“It all happened… I had to tone down the violence of my dad”, Davies told The Guardian) is set in the Liverpool of his youth and is more an impressionistic montage of vibrant tableaux vivants than a drama with a traditional structure. It’s a two part affair, the first half concentrating on the brutish, violent dad (Pete Postlethwaite), long suffering, sad-eyed mum (Freda Dowie) and their three kids – as wartime austerity starts to crack and the good times of the late 1950s start to make their presence felt, which is the theme of the second half. It was photographed in a distinctive “bleach bypass” process, which reduces colour saturation and increases contrast, one of Davies’s perennial concerns being the distorting effect of memory. Like its companion piece, The Long Day Closes, the film is shot through with music, from plaintive choirboys to pub singalongs, and works best as an evocation of the era when you could buy single cigarettes in the corner shop and rum and peppermint was a popular tipple down the boozer.

© Steve Morrissey 2007


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Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) Drama, Music | 84min | 16 November 1988 (France) 7.4
Director: Terence DaviesWriter: Terence DaviesStars: Pete Postlethwaite, Freda Dowie, Angela WalshSummary: The second film in Terence Davies's autobiographical series ('Trilogy', 'The Long Day Closes') is an impressionistic view of a working-class family in 1940s and 1950s Liverpool, based on Davies's own family. The first part, 'Distant Voices', opens with grown siblings Eileen (Angela Walsh), Maisie (Lorraine Ashbourne) and Tony (Dean Williams), and their mother (Freda Dowie) arranged in mourning clothes before the photograph of their smiling father (Pete Postlethwaite). Soon after, the family poses in a similar tableau, but for a happier occasion - Eileen's wedding. While relatives sing at her reception, Eileen hysterically grieves for her dad, and recalls happy times of her youth. Tony and Maisie's memories, however, are more troubled. Davies intermingles and contrasts scenes like the family peacefully lighting candles in church with the brutal man beating his wife and terrorizing his young children. In 'Still Lives', set (and filmed) two years later, the siblings are settled in life, ... Written by Anonymous


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