Distant Voices, Still Lives

Distant Voices, Still Lives ★★★★

Terence Davies’ semi-autobiographical work about a family in 1940s and 1950s Liverpool explores the importance and the hyperlocality of family and community via dozens of tableaux, nearly all of which take place within the same house (the interiors were actually mainly shot in London, though) or the same local pub; the action occasionally diverts to a hospital and a nearby air-raid shelter. A certain sense of claustrophobia is induced by the reliance on a relatively small number of locations, and this is added to by the tight framing; we spend so much time in all of these rooms but the focus is mostly on the people who inhabit them, and it’s often hard to get a sense of how big the spaces are, and they are understandably sparsely decorated, given that we’re seeing a working class family during a period of severe austerity. Split into two sections, the first (‘Distant Voices’) has a shadow cast over it by Pete Postlethwaite’s mean, violent, bullying patriarch – a superb performance, by the way – while the second (‘Still Lives’) seems to focus more on the social side of life, with more of an emphasis on drunken singalongs in the pub and parties at the house. Altogether an intriguing, unusual work that’s beautifully scored and – for fans of 1980s scouser TV – there’s a chance to see straight dramatic performances from Sinbad (Michael Starke) and Nellie Boswell (Jean Boht)! It’s also a fine example of a film as time capsule (Given my knowledge of Davies’ work as a filmmaker I’m presuming that it’s pretty accurate in its depiction of the era.)