Terence Davies

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Terence Davies
Davies in 2021
Born(1945-11-10)10 November 1945
Liverpool, England
Died7 October 2023(2023-10-07) (aged 77)
Mistley, England
Occupation(s)Screenwriter, film director
Years active1976–2023

Terence Davies (10 November 1945 – 7 October 2023) was a British screenwriter, film director, and novelist. He is best known as the writer and director of autobiographical films, including Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988), The Long Day Closes (1992) and the collage film Of Time and the City (2008), as well as the literary adaptations The Neon Bible (1995), The House of Mirth (2000), The Deep Blue Sea (2011), and Sunset Song (2015). His final two feature films were centered around influential literary figures, Emily Dickinson in A Quiet Passion (2016) and Siegfried Sassoon in Benediction (2021). Davies was considered by some critics as one of the great British directors of his period.[1]

Early years[edit]

Terence Davies was born in Kensington, Liverpool, on 10 November 1945,[2] as the youngest of ten children of working-class Catholic parents.[3] Though he was raised Catholic by his deeply religious mother, at the age of 22 he rejected religion and considered himself an atheist.[4][5] Davies's father, whom Davies remembered as "psychotic", died of cancer when Davies was seven years old. He recalled the period from then until he entered secondary school, at the age of 11, as the four happiest years of his life.[4]

After leaving school at 16, Davies worked for 10 years as a shipping office clerk and as an unqualified accountant before leaving Liverpool in 1971 to attend Coventry Drama School.[6]


Early short films[edit]

While at Coventry, Davies wrote the screenplay for what became his first autobiographical short, Children (1976), filmed under the auspices of the BFI Production Board.[6] After that introduction to film-making Davies attended the National Film School, completing Madonna and Child (1980), a continuation of the story of his alter ego, Robert Tucker, covering his years as a clerk in Liverpool. He completed the trilogy with Death and Transfiguration (1983), in which he speculates about the circumstances of his death. Those works went on to be screened together at film festivals throughout Europe and North America as The Terence Davies Trilogy, winning numerous awards. Davies, who was gay, frequently explored gay themes in his films.[7][3]

First feature films[edit]

Davies's first two features, Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes, are autobiographical films set in Liverpool in the 1940s and 1950s. In reviewing Distant Voices, Still Lives, Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote that "years from now, when practically all the other new movies currently playing are long forgotten, it will be remembered and treasured as one of the greatest of all English films".[8] In 2002, critics polled for Sight & Sound ranked Distant Voices, Still Lives as the ninth-best film of the previous 25 years.[9] Jean-Luc Godard, often dismissive of British cinema in general, singled out Distant Voices, Still Lives as an exception, calling it "magnificent". The Long Day Closes was also praised by J. Hoberman as "Davies'[s] most autobiographical and fully achieved work".[10]

Davies's next two features, The Neon Bible and The House of Mirth, were adaptations of novels by John Kennedy Toole and Edith Wharton respectively. The House of Mirth received favourable reviews, with Film Comment naming it one of the 10 best films of 2000. Gillian Anderson won Best Performance in the Second Annual Village Voice Film Critics' Poll and the film was named the third best film of 2000 in the same poll.[11]

Radio projects and Of Time and the City[edit]

After completing The House of Mirth Davies intended to make an adaptation of Sunset Song, a novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon published in 1932, as his fifth feature, but financing proved difficult. Scottish and international backers left the project after the BBC, Channel 4 and the UK Film Council each rejected proposals for final funds. Davies apparently considered Kirsten Dunst for the lead role before the project was postponed.[12] Afterwards, he wrote an original romantic comedy screenplay and an adaptation of Ed McBain's novel crime novel He Who Hesitates, neither of which were produced.[13]

In the interim, Davies produced two works for radio, A Walk to the Paradise Garden, an original radio play broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 2001, and a two-part adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel The Waves, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2007.[6]

The long interval between films ended with his only documentary, Of Time and the City, which was premiered out of competition at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. The work uses vintage newsreel footage, contemporary popular music and Davies's narration in a paean to Liverpool. It received positive reviews on its premiere.[14]

In 2010, after completing Of Time and the City, Davies produced a third radio project, Intensive Care, a personal recollection of his youth and his relationship with his mother.[15]

Later films[edit]

Davies's The Deep Blue Sea, based on the play by Terence Rattigan, was commissioned by the Rattigan Trust. The film was met with widespread acclaim, and Rachel Weisz won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress and topped the Village Voice Film Critics' Poll for best lead female performance.[16]

Davies finally found finance for Sunset Song in 2012, and it went into production in 2014.[17][18] In October 2014 the film went into post-production.[19] It was released in 2015.[18] During this time, an attempted adaptation of Richard McCann's Mother of Sorrows did not come to fruition.[20]

Davies's next film was A Quiet Passion, based on the life of the American poet Emily Dickinson.[21]

His last film, Benediction (2021), tells the story of the British war poet and memoirist Siegfried Sassoon.[4]

In February 2023, it was announced that Davies was working on a film adaptation of Stefan Zweig's novel The Post Office Girl, though the project was subsequently abandoned due to a lack of funding. Davies said he was working on another script in September 2023, the month before he died.[22] After his death, the script was revealed to be based on Janette Jenkins's novel Firefly, which focuses on the last five days in the life of playwright and composer Noël Coward.[23]

Personal life and death[edit]

Davies lived in Mistley, Essex.[24][25] In an interview in 2022, he said that he preferred to live alone and had been single for much of his life except for a heterosexual relationship in the late 1970s when "there was still this attitude of: 'Well, find the right person and you'll be happy'"; he was uninterested in relationships with men, saying "I did go on to the gay scene for a couple of months and I thought it's just not for me".[4]

Davies died from cancer at his home on 7 October 2023 at the age of 77.[1][21]


Source, unless specified:[26]

Feature films
Year Title
1988 Distant Voices, Still Lives
1992 The Long Day Closes
1995 The Neon Bible
2000 The House of Mirth
2011 The Deep Blue Sea
2015 Sunset Song
2016 A Quiet Passion
2021 Benediction
Year Title
2008 Of Time and the City
Short films
Year Title Notes
1976 Children Also released in 1983 as part of the anthology film The Terence Davies Trilogy
1980 Madonna and Child
1983 Death and Transfiguration
2021 But Why?[27] Ephemeral film produced for the Venice Film Festival
2023 Passing Time[22] Produced for the Film Fest Gent's 2x25 project


Year Title Notes
1984 Hallelujah Now[28] novel
1992 A Modest Pageant[28] collected screenplays

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Nominated work Result
1983 Chicago International Film Festival Best Feature The Terence Davies Trilogy Nominated
1988 Cannes Film Festival FIPRESCI Prize Distant Voices, Still Lives Won
1988 César Award Best European Film Nominated
1988 Locarno International Film Festival Golden Leopard Won
1988 Toronto International Film Festival International Critics' Award Won
1988 European Film Award Best Film Nominated
1988 Best Director Nominated
1988 Best Music Nominated
1989 London Film Critics Circle Award Best Film Won
1989 Best Director Won
1989 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award Best Foreign Language Film Won
1990 Independent Spirit Awards Best Foreign Film Nominated
1990 Belgian Film Critics Association Grand Prix Won
1990 Amanda Award, Norway Best International Film Won
1992 Evening Standard British Film Award Best Screenplay The Long Day Closes Won
1992 Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or Nominated
1995 The Neon Bible Nominated
2000 USC Scripter Award The House of Mirth Nominated
2000 Satellite Award Best Adapted Screenplay Nominated
2000 London Film Critics Circle Award British Director of the Year Nominated
2000 New York Film Critics Circle Award Best Director Nominated
2000 British Film Institute Award Best British Independent Film Nominated
2001 British Academy Film Awards Best British Film Nominated
2007 British Film Institute Fellowship Won
2008 London Film Critics Circle Award British Director of the Year Of Time and the City Nominated
2009 New York Film Critics Circle Award Best Non-Fiction Film Nominated
2009 Chicago International Film Festival Best Documentary Nominated
2009 Australian Film Critics Association Award Best Documentary Nominated
2011 BFI London Film Festival Best Film Award The Deep Blue Sea Nominated
2012 Munich Film Festival Best International Film Nominated
2012 Cinequest Film Festival Maverick Spirit Award Won
2016 BFI London Film Festival Best Film A Quiet Passion Nominated
2016 Film Fest Gent Grand Prix Won
2017 Dublin Film Critics' Circle Best Screenplay Nominated


  1. ^ a b Thorpe, Vanessa (7 October 2023). "Terence Davies, award-winning film-maker, dies at 77". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 October 2023.
  2. ^ "Debrett's People of Today – Terence Davies Esq". Archived from the original on 14 December 2013. Retrieved 9 October 2023.
  3. ^ a b Ellis, Jim (11 November 2004). "Davies, Terence" (PDF). An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d Gilbey, Ryan (20 May 2022). "'I wish I was very good-looking and very stupid': Terence Davies on sex, death and Benediction". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 October 2023.
  5. ^ Intensive Care, the autobiographical radio feature that Davies wrote and narrated for BBC Radio 3 (broadcast 17 April 2010)
  6. ^ a b c "Terence Davies, acclaimed director of gritty but lyrical films of working-class life – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 8 October 2023. Retrieved 10 October 2023.
  7. ^ Hattenstone, Simon (20 October 2006). "Bigmouth strikes again". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 8 August 2007.
  8. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan (18 August 1989). "Distant Voices, Still Lives". Chicago: Chicago Reader. Retrieved 26 January 2013.
  9. ^ James, Nick (2002). "Modern Times". London: BFI's Sight & Sound. Archived from the original on 4 July 2012. Retrieved 26 January 2013.
  10. ^ Hoberman, Jim (23 March 2012). "The Inner Light of Terence Davies". New York: NYRblog. Retrieved 26 January 2013.
  11. ^ "Village Voice Critics Poll". New York: The Village Voice. 2000. Archived from the original on 16 February 2013. Retrieved 26 January 2013.
  12. ^ "English turn a deaf ear to Sunset Song". Times.co.uk. 25 April 2005. Retrieved 19 October 2023.
  13. ^ ""Liverpool is completely alien to me now, I just don't know it anymore" - An interview with Terence Davies". 24 October 2008. Retrieved 31 October 2023.
  14. ^ Ide, Wendy (20 May 2008). "Of Time and the City". London: Times.co.uk. Retrieved 20 May 2008.
  15. ^ "Intensive Care". BBC Radio 3. Retrieved 23 April 2024.
  16. ^ Scott, A.O. (22 March 2012). "The Deep Blue Sea". New York: NYTimes. Retrieved 26 January 2013.
  17. ^ "Terence Davies's Sunset Song gets green light at last". The Guardian. 17 February 2012. Archived from the original on 20 October 2022.
  18. ^ a b Kemp, Stuart (29 April 2014). "Terence Davies' 'Sunset Song' Begins Scottish Shoot". Hollywoodreporter.com. Retrieved 9 October 2023.
  19. ^ "Hurricane Films". Hurricanefilms.net. Retrieved 9 October 2023.
  20. ^ "Terence Davies Adapting Richard McCann for 'Mother of Sorrows'". Retrieved 31 October 2023.
  21. ^ a b Smith, Harrison (9 October 2023). "Terence Davies, lyrical British filmmaker, dies at 77". The Washington Post. Retrieved 10 October 2023.
  22. ^ a b Newman, Nick (19 September 2023). "Terence Davies on Bringing Poetry to Life, Directing His New Short, and Planning His Next Feature". The Film Stage. Retrieved 10 October 2023.
  23. ^ Newman, Nick (14 October 2023). "Details Emerge on Terence Davies' Planned Noël Coward Biopic Firefly". The Film Stage. Retrieved 19 October 2023.
  24. ^ Koresky, Michael (7 October 2023). "Terence Davies obituary: farewell to a British master of poetic cinema". British Film Institute. Retrieved 7 October 2023.
  25. ^ Christopher, James (11 October 2008). "Director Terence Davies returns with dazzling Of Time and the City". The Times. Retrieved 8 October 2023.
  26. ^ Gilbey, Ryan (8 October 2023). "Terence Davies obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 October 2023.
  27. ^ "Viennale-Trailer 2021: But Why?". Venice Film Festival. 2021.
  28. ^ a b "Amazon.co.uk: Terence Davies: Books, Biography, Blogs, Audiobooks, Kindle". Amazon UK. Archived from the original on 11 September 2021.

External links[edit]