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Madonna and Child (1980)


Main image of Madonna and Child (1980)
DirectorTerence Davies
Production CompanyNational Film School
ScriptTerence Davies
PhotographyWilliam Diver

Cast: Terry O'Sullivan (Robert Tucker), Sheila Raynor (Robert's Mum)

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Middle-aged Robert Tucker is caught between Catholicism and sexuality as he tries to reconcile his public and private personae.

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Made over a period of some seven years, the Terence Davies Trilogy spans the period from Terence Davies's earliest work as a filmmaker through to his emergence as one of the outstanding British directors of his generation. Davies wrote the script for Children (1976) while at drama school, and made the film with funding from the British Film Institute; Madonna and Child (1980) was produced at the National Film School as his graduation film; Death and Transfiguration (1983) was made three years later with the backing of the BFI and the Greater London Arts Association.

Together, the three films chart the life and death of Robert Tucker, brought up - like Davies himself - in a Catholic working-class home in Liverpool. Robert is bullied at school and has a violent father who dies while the boy is still young. He is left to live alone with his mother, to whom he is devoted. As an adult, he struggles with his homosexuality, and the feelings of guilt and shame induced by his sexuality are sharpened by his Catholicism.

Already in this early work, Davies shows adeptness and precision in his handling of sounds and images and in bringing an extraordinary intensity of emotion to the screen. The Trilogy contains some bold experiments with what was to become the fully-fledged 'memory-realism' of Davies's later Liverpool-set films, Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and The Long Day Closes (1992) - in Children, the long bus journey he takes with his silent, weeping mother; in Madonna and Child, the track around the stations of the Cross and the church as, on the soundtrack, Robert pleads with the tattooist; the funeral of his mother in the opening sequence of Death and Transfiguration, its precisely judged images cut to Doris Day's song 'It All Depends On You'.

A deliberate imprecision of time - a refusal of period settings, a merging in the films' narration between the present and various times past - marks the entire trilogy. The interplay of pasts and present is particularly effective in Death and Transfiguration, in which, too, every memory trace is saturated with finely-honed emotion. While bearing the hallmarks of the personal, the evocations of the past - or of different pasts - throughout the Trilogy develop a cinematic language which expresses the universality of the experience of remembering.

Annette Kuhn

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'The Terence Davies Trilogy'.

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Video Clips
1. Rituals and icons (2:40)
2. In the confessional (3:25)
3. Day of judgement (2:44)
Complete film (25:13)
Production stills
Children (1976)
Death and Transfiguration (1983)
Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988)
Audsley, Mick (1949-)
Barber, Paul (1952-)
Davies, Terence (1945-)