Terence Davies’ debut feature is the story of Eileen, Maisie and Tony, adult siblings haunted in very different ways by the spectre of their father, a violent and cruel patriarch – played by a truly extraordinary Pete Postlethwaite – who terrorised them and their mother when they were children.
Recounting the story of their day-to-day lives as well as their conflicting childhood memories, Davies’ film follows the three through life’s cycle of births, marriages, and deaths, and moments of both profound sadness and pure joy, many of which revolve around evenings spent in the pub with friends, where bursting into song often becomes a vehicle for memory, expression, and release.
Distant Voices, Still Lives was a sensation when it premiered at Cannes in 1988, winning the International Critics’ Prize and being hailed as a masterpiece of British cinema.
Drawn from Davies’ own family history in working class Liverpool in the 1940s and 50s and told in two distinct parts shot two years apart, the film is a rare example of a master filmmaker arriving fully formed with their debut feature.
Exhibiting all the director’s trademark poetry – from painterly framing to a languorous, travelling camera and the use of music to conjure moments of feeling and the evocation of heart-breaking memories – Distant Voices, Still Lives is a film of deep, unwavering empathy, exploring the human condition through the poetics of the everyday.
This film is screening at Tyneside Cinema as a part of our season Living as Poetry: A Tribute to Terence Davies which you can learn more about here!