Directed by: Terence Davies
Countries & Regions: United Kingdom
Studio: British Film Institute
Length: 94 mins
Released: 28 July 2008
Cat No: BFIVD752
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The Terence Davies Trilogy
Three short films by director Terence Davies: ’Children’ (1976), ’Madonna and the Child’ (1980) and ’Death and Transfiguration’ (1983).... Read More
These three BFI-sponsored shorts announced the arrival of a major talent. Brazen, unpolished and utterly dazzling, they introduced the concerns that have dominated Terence Davies’ work ever since – sexuality, drudgery, memory, misery and the redemptive power of film and song. But while the Trilogy – which toured European festivals in this combined form in 1984 – served as a launchpad for one of the most singular careers in modern cinema, it is also a major work in its own right.
The semi-autobiographical triptych follows Davies’ alter-ego, Robert Tucker, from cradle to grave. Children (1976) is a sobering account of Davies’ difficult Liverpool childhood, intercut with sequences showing the artist as a deeply unhappy young man. Torn from life, the scenes of playground bullying centre on the “Who’s queer, then?” calling card later heard in The Long Day Closes. Madonna and Child (1980) juxtaposes scenes from Davies/Tucker’s public and private lives, with the middle-aged office worker waist-deep in self-loathing, trying to reconcile his Catholic upbringing and his homosexuality. And in Death and Transfiguration (1983), we see the elderly Tucker (Wilfred Brambell) on a hospital ward, coughing himself to death.
The joy, needless to say, is in the execution. As in Distant Voices, Still Lives, Davies uses music to send the action into sharp relief. He scores his mother’s funeral procession to Doris Day’s ‘It All Depends on You’, an act of inspiration that sends a shiver down the spine. His remarkable visual sense is also in evidence, with much of Death and Transfiguration comprising unflinching, hypnotic close-ups of the ailing Tucker. And Davies’ mastery of both sound and image informs Madonna and Child’s bravura centrepiece: a reverentially shot tour of the stations of the Cross accompanied by Tucker’s nervous, anonymous call to a tattooist, asking him to draw on his balls.
Displaying his usual contempt for commerciality, Davies shows mental illness up close and ugly, stripped of the fashionable mania and humour of so many big screen fairy tales. A long, lingering shot of his mother sobbing quietly to herself on a bus is simple, eloquent and desperately moving.