Terence Davies began making this collection of short films at just 30 years of age, not long after he left Liverpool to study drama in Coventry. The first part of the series, ‘Children’, was completed in 1976. It cuts between Tucker, a proxy for Davies himself, as a schoolboy and as an adult exploring his early homosexual desires and how he wrestles with them as a grown-up. Much of the drama in ‘Children’ takes place at Tucker’s old Catholic school where, as an outcast, he is the victim of bullying by his peers during break times and after school. No less brutal, however, is the school itself where intimidation and physical violence are administered as forms of control and punishment by its tyrannical teachers.
Later, in 1980, having gone to the National Film School, Terence Davies revisited Tucker in ‘Madonna and Child’, the second part of what would become the ‘Terence Davies Trilogy’. As an adult, we discover Tucker is living with his mother and suffering from crippling Catholic guilt as his repressed homosexuality comes to the fore. A tremendous sequence – the highlight of the short film, in fact – juxtaposes Tucker’s proclamation of his sins in a church confessional with his performance of a sexual act on another man, both of which are shot with a heavy use of shadows and silhouettes.
Neither of the three short films are particularly great, but its third and final chapter ‘Death And Transfiguration’ is a masterpiece. It demonstrates a young Terence Davies finally discovering the unique cinematic language for which he would soon be celebrated with his feature length pictures ‘Distant Voices, Still Lives’ and ‘The Long Day Closes’. While all of the shorts touch on themes of memory, religious and homosexuality that would dominate his work, this final film shows him experimenting with movement and framing to capture them. With poeticism and profundity it documents Tucker grieving the passing of his mother, pondering childhood memories with her at Christmas time and meditating on his own fate and how he himself might die.
This review is part of New In Cinema’s Terence Davies season. Click to see our ranking of Terence Davies’ films and all our other reviews of his movies.