The Long Day Closes feels similar to Distant Voices, Still Lives, yet it is still quite different, genuinely moving and makes for an effective companion piece. It’s still a film of moments and no plot to speak of, drawn from the directors own memories, and tied together by feeling and emotion rather than action, but whereas in Distant Voices, Still Lives the father (Pete Postlethwaite) was a constant influence on the family even after death, it’s a telling difference that he isn’t in this one at all. Without Postlethwaite’s rock, The Long Day Closes is even more dreamlike because we focus on a young boy (Bud, played by Leigh McCormack) who is more like a leaf, carried by the story rather than forcing it. Davies didn’t include a character to represent himself in his own family in Distant Voices, Still Lives, yet here he clearly is, and fatherless. That’s a telling difference between the films and one a psychologist could have a field day with. It makes for an interesting point in the first part of Davies’ Trilogy too, which preceded both of his features.
Of course the real constant is his mother, here played by Marjorie Yates. Bud is the youngest of her children and very lonely, but his relationship with her is all the more powerful for both of them and is very touching. It’s small and simple moments that linger in the memory; Bud asking his mum for enough money to go the pictures (he has a penny and just needs eleven more) for instance. Cinema plays a big part in this story. Bullied at school, unable to rely on childhood friendships and excluded from activities that his older brother and sisters do (despite them clearly adoring their kid brother) Bud regularly retreats into films that form an exotic escape.
Two more elements of Terence Davies’ history are tackled here too: religion and homosexuality. The brave writing exposes Bud’s difficulty in following his family’s Catholicism and confusion in his subtle attraction to older boys. Catholic and sexual guilt, as well as the grimness of 1950s Liverpool and canings at school, makes this film sound like a real struggle to watch, but it’s so brilliantly presented from Bud’s perspective that there is a pervading innocence and sense of nostalgia that never feels exploited. Along with the gorgeous photography and the idle camera that maintains a discreet distance it is a rewarding and poetic experience. There is a lot less singing here than in Distant Voices, Still Lives, but Davies also employs a wonderful soundtrack that carries through the film. His knowledge of music is clearly exceptional.
It’s his writing though that really brings the film’s themes together. To be able to tackle such an openly personal story with such humour and a lightness of touch is a gift. The banter between the older children and their friends is especially and frequently very funny (a couple of the friends from Distant Voices, Still Lives clearly continue to have an influence), yet it never once feels contrived. It may well be a case of writing what he knows, but Terence Davies is a master at making it relevant to all of us.