Distant Voices, Still Lives - Terence Davies (1987)




A very peculiar film, one of the only film that manages to tell a story in fragments and associations of ideas, like a return to the light of memories remained buried in the memory. A movie without a plot, no dialogue, no respect for history, very far from the established rules of screenwriting. We can say that from a certain point of view that is a film in the form of poetry, as opposed to traditional film in the form of prose.

The story is then reconstructed by the audience itself, which integrates in his mind the missing parts and interconnections, just like in the video-clips, but in these video works the story has a duration of four minutes or so, while in this remarkable film the entire film writing is built around this method, with a special effort of the Director that must hold for the duration of a standard movie.

The story is divided into two parts, just like the title. Distant Voices is the frightening memory of the alcoholic and violent father, played brilliantly by the British actor Pete Postlethwaite, dictator in his family, where he seeks his revenge on a gray life, all set in a leaden and popular Liverpool before the Beatles era, in the '40s and early the following decade, a city photographed so impressionistic by Patrick Duval.

The other part of the film, Still Lives, focuses on the attempt to turn the page of the family, after the death of the father, and the whole story revolves around the marriage of his son, the protagonist of the film, symbolic moment of a new beginning.

A new beginning that the film shows us to be nevertheless always within the same mechanisms, as if the characters were been forced to repeat the mistakes which have been affected themselves, and to repeat in their family, the family of origin.
To mark the difference, the fragments of memories are separate by black screens in the first part, and by screens white and full of light, in the second one.

Weddings ...   ... and everyday life, during the "radio days"

What we see are fragments of this story, small daily events, habitual gestures (see above), family gatherings (see images below), in short, moments that are fixed randomly in the memory of everyone of us. Often, during these memories we can see or hear the actors singing the songs of that period or the radio playing these songs. It is not a way of singing musical kind, that is, out of context, it is sung realistic, consistent with the situation, which arises for pleasure or convivial gatherings, in pubs, in an era prior to the disco and karaoke, when customers actively built the soundtrack of the evening.

Music is the background and then glue, is the refuge of the family, mother, sisters Eileen and Masie, who find themselves outside the home in the evening, singing popular songs they express their desire to abstract themselves from their lives everyday: almost therapeutic music, an escape from reality.




Freda Dowie

The mother

Pete Postlethwaite     

The father

Angela Walsh 


Dean Williams 


Lorraine Ashbourne 


Debi Jones 


Marie Jelliman 


Sally Davies 

Eileen as child

Nathan Walsh 

Tony as child

Susan Flanagan 

Maisie as child


Soundtrack (Selection)

The soundtrack consists mostly of popular radio hits of the '40s and '50s in Britain, so realistically re-proposed to sing together in pubs. It is indicated one of the many interpreters who have performed these "standard ".


Author / Interpreter

Moments / Note

Hymn To The Virgin

Benjamin Britten


In The Break Midwinter

Harold Drake


Love is a Many-Splendored Thing

Susan Bullock

The famous piece of Paul Francis Webster and Sammy Fein, from the soundtrack of the eponymous movie of 1955 with William Holden and Jennifer Jones.

The Finger Of Suspicioun

Dickie Valentine
(Mann - Lewis)



Jack Hoffman


The Music of the Years Gone

Nat King Cole


I Wanna Be Around

Johnny Mercer / Tony Bennett and others


They Tried to Tell Us We're Too Young



When Irish Eyes Are Smiling

by Chauncey Olcott & George Graff and Ernest Ball

A song of 1912.

We’ll Have a Happy Ending Now

Ella Fitzgerald and others

The scene of his mother beaten by her husband.

Taking a Chance On Love

Ella Fitzgerald and others


The Gang's All Here

Probably a popular inspired song of 1917, by Leo Feist

The song that accompanies the scene in the air raid shelters.

Oh Mein Papa


One of the songs sung in the evenings at the pub.

The Water is Wide

Traditional Irish song

The song during the credits.

Oh Waly, Waly

Benjamin Britten



A selection of images of the film

Tony's wedding    
The father so little beloved ...    ... and the reason why ...
Preparing for the pub    
The evenings at the pub ....   ... singing (and dreaming) together.

 © Alberto Truffi 2011 - Music-Graffiti