Terence Davies, 77, dies; The filmmaker extracted literature and his own life from it. | ET REALITY


Terence Davies, a British screenwriter and director known for his poetic and intensely personal films such as “Distant Voices, Still Lives” and literary adaptations such as “The House of Mirth,” died Saturday at his home in the village of Mistley, Essex, on the southwest coast of England. He was 77 years old.

His manager, John Taylor, confirmed the death but did not specify the cause, saying only that Davies had died after “a short illness.”

An obituary from the British Film Institute said: “No one made films like Davies, who precisely sculpted a subjective past, creating films that glided on waves of contemplation and observation.”

The very specific “Distant Voices, Still Lives” (1988) starred Pete Postlethwaite as a violently abusive Liverpool father who terrorizes his wife and children. When the film was re-released in 2018, The Guardian called it “the director’s film.”early autobiographical masterpiece” and declared it “as gripping as any thriller.”

When critics referred to Mr. Davies’s film dramas as musicals, they did so only half-jokingly. The songs are sung or heard in his films just as they are in real life: in bars, at celebrations, in church and on the radio.

In “Distant Voices,” the townspeople and their children sing “Beer Barrel Polka” in a bomb shelter to distract themselves from the horrors of World War II. The audience listens to “If You Knew Susie” at a wedding reception, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” as Mr. Postlethwaite carries a curry comb to a horse, and “Taking a Chance on Love” plays in the background on a radio , even during the most brutal scenes.

The film won the International Critics’ Prize at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival.

The house of joy(2000), based on Edith Wharton’s 1905 novel, starring Gillian Anderson as doomed heroine Lily Bart. In an article in The Village Voice, J. Hoberman called the film “brilliantly adapted” and Ms. Anderson’s performance “unexpectedly impressive.”

Stephen Holden of the New York Times found the film “funerally bleak,” but had to admit, he wrote, that the story was “so gripping that it almost doesn’t matter how it is expressed.” And the San Francisco Chronicle praised it as “such a fascinating disappointment.” Still, it grossed only $5 million worldwide (a little over $9 million in today’s money).

The industry eventually forgave him for his commercial limitations and continued to support his films, including “The Deep Blue Sea” (2011), starring Rachel Weisz, which was based on Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play about a judge’s wife who has an emotionally destructive affair.

It was also not a box office success, but critics generally admired it. A review in New York magazine highlighted Mr. Davies’ “ability to combine the particular with the iconic, to turn ordinary moments into something almost mythical.”

Terence Davies was born on November 10, 1945 in Liverpool, England, the youngest of 10 children in a working-class family.

When Terence was 7 years old, his father died of cancer. He grew up in his mother’s Roman Catholic faith, but developed doubts and rejected the religion entirely when he was 22.

“Then I realized it was a lie,” he recalled in an interview with The New Yorker in 2017. “Men in dresses, nothing more.”

He left school at 15 and worked as a transport clerk and accountant. More than a decade later, he changed course and enrolled in a drama school in Coventry, more than 100 miles south of Liverpool, near Birmingham.

He was still a student when he began working on his first short film, “Children” (1976), later edited into “The Terence Davies Trilogy” (1983).

The next half century brought with it Mr Davies awards, attention at film festivals and a prestigious list of credits.

He made “The Long Day Closes” (1992), a young gay man’s battle with the church, his family and his own guilt; “The Neon Bible” (1995), starring Gena Rowlands, based on the novel by John Kennedy Toole, set in the southern United States; the documentary “Of Time and the City” (2008), a history and reflection on his hometown of Liverpool (a “charming, astringent film,” AO Scott wrote in The Times); and “sunset song(2015), starring Agyness Deyn, based on Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel about coming of age in early 20th century Scotland.

Eventually Mr Davies, who always said he was drawn to the past, began to explore the lives of the poets themselves.

She made “A Quiet Passion” (2016), in which Cynthia Nixon plays Emily Dickinson, the reclusive 19th-century American poet. The Times reviewer found that Davies possessed “a poetic sensibility perfectly suited to her subject and a deep, idiosyncratic intuition about what might have motivated her.”

His last film was “Blessing”(2021), a drama about the First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon. The New Yorker called it “an energizing and inspiring film about the vanity of existence itself.”

Davies, who was gay and never married, leaves no known survivors and had lived alone since 1980. He had tried the gay dating scene, he said, and discarded it, among other reasons, because of what he called his devotion to narcissism.

Lamenting the era of total license, both in the arts and in daily life, he said LA Weekly in 2012: “The first thing that disappears is subtlety. The first thing to go is any kind of restraint or sometimes even ingenuity. “I don’t know how to deal with that in the modern world.”

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