of-time-and-the-city-nov-12thThis is Davies’ double-edged personal homage to the city of his childhood. The film, narrated by Davies himself, uses archive and more recent film of Liverpool to produce a highly personal ‘docu-essay’ that reflects his individuality. “Nothing has given me more pleasure this year: the sweetness of its temper, the unfashionable seriousness of its design and its mixture of worldliness and innocence make for something sublime” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian. (Cert 12A)
Dir: Terence Davies 72 mins UK 2008

Preceded by Annual General Meeting at 7.30 p.m.

Programme Notes

Thursday, 12th November 2009


UK 2008 72minutes Cert. 12A

We have shown before two of director Terence Davies’s films about his being brought up in the working class environment of Liverpool and based on his childhood years. These were Distant Voices,Still Lives and The Long Day Closes. Together with his preceding The Terence Davies Trilogy films, these are what Davies is best known for, and the two films he did between those and Of Time and the City, i.e. The House of Mirth and The Neon Bible, were relative failures.

When the organisers of ‘Liverpool European Capital of Culture 2008’ approached Davies to do a film celebrating that event, it is difficult to imagine what they expected. In an interview with Scott Macaulay of the magazine Filmmaker, earlier this year, Davies relates that he was approached by one of the producers, Sol Papadopoulos, to do a film about Liverpool for a budget of £250,000. Davies told Papadopoulos that he didn’t want to do any more fiction films about Liverpool but that he was interested in doing a documentary contrasting the Liverpool that he grew up in with the modern Liverpool of today, and he wanted to do it along the same lines as Humphrey Jennings Listen to Britain (1941), which he considered to be a masterpiece of documentary in the form of a poem.

Papadopoulos agreed and Davies produced a six-minute trailer saying “Look, it is a personal essay. So if it is not what you want you better give the money to someone else, because it is not going to be a straight documentary: this happened that happened. I’m not interested in that.” Davies researched material for inclusion and was greatly impressed by two other films he saw. One was Nick Broomfield’s Who Cares and the other was Denis Mitchell and Roy Harris’s 1959 production made for the BBC, Morning in the Streets, which was not narrated but voiced over by the people of the city itself. This latter film was re-shown on BBC Four as part of its Liverpool on the Box season coinciding with the culture capital event mentioned above. Another influence was a BBC Radio 3 airing of an old Romanian folk song sung by Angela Gheorghiu, called Watch and Pray. Davies said that it inspired him to reminisce about Christmases gone by, the Korean War, and then the Coronation. As you will see, Davies is not a great royalist and at one point takes a humorous swipe at them.

Eventually, with the help of archive film, some modern footage and some appropriate music the film was put together. The result is a personal, poignant view of the city, comparing the Liverpool he knew with the city of today, and explaining through the narrative how one’s past can both shape and have a bearing on one’s future. As Davies himself said, it is not so much a film about the city but a modest film about what it feels like to be a Liverpudlian.

Director – Terence Davies
Writer – Terence Davies
Cinematography – Tim Pollard
Producers – Sol Papadopoulos, Ray Boulter
Film Editor – Liza Ryan-Carter
Sound – Adam Ryan-Carter
Music Supervisor – Ian Neil


“Nothing less than a masterpiece!”

“A brilliant combination of sound and vision, although it required concentration to take it all in. It was a different world, and in my own lifetime.”

“This was a lovely film. I thought the photography, newsreel, poetry, music, jokes and period grime were all excellent. Where did all the years go?”

“Interesting, elegiac film – [showing us] all that we’ve lost?”

“Stunning, sad, brilliantly shot – we must visit this rejuvenated city! Much nostalgia for the period, even though not in Liverpool.”

“Visually beautiful – even the ugly scenes. Great, well-chosen music. Voice over excellent, if a teeny bit pretentious at times. Very satisfactory.”

“With Davies’ narration and some mesmerising music, this was simply a poetic piece of cinematic self-indulgence of the highest calibre. Definitely one of the best documentaries [of] this decade.”

“Nostalgia rules! Beautifully filmed – the music set the scene, too.”

“A gorgeous wallow in nostalgia. Terence Davies seems to have retained a passion for liturgy and ritual despite his break with the Catholic (or any) church.”

“Life, demise and resurrection! Excellent in every way.”

“I remember it all so well – and it was just as depicted.”

“Fascinating compilation of 50 years of a city. I knew Liverpool as a student in the 1970s and remember the areas of wasteland, empty buildings and poverty but also the humour and vibrant life. [All this was] well depicted in the film.”

“Much better than I expected. Great archive footage and sharp commentary. I liked the line about British municipal architecture’s gift for the dismal.”

“Much better than I was expecting! The changes of mood and irreverent humour helped stop it falling into the trite clichés so many films of this genre fall foul of.”

“Very nice, once it settled into its rhythm.”

“Alan Bennett does this sort of quirky nostalgia rather more cheerfully. Boris Johnson said Liverpool was too sorry for itself – and [then] was sent there to apologise; so I had better be careful! The children really seemed to be having a wonderful time – and the dogs …”

“Fascinating archive material but the film somehow missed the energy and cultural activity in this City of Culture [2008].”

“Memories of my childhood but, if I returned now, I would not recognise the place. Somehow, the survival instinct did not appear [in the film] nor the tremendous humour that kept people sane!”

“A highly stylised view of a city where, obviously, the director was given a free hand to express specifically his own personal ideas.”

“A curate’s egg (of a film) – moving and telling in parts but a bit ‘pseudo’. It would have been nice to see some credits for the poetry.”

“I’d be fascinated to know what an audience of under 30s would make of that imagery from the past.”

“I worked in industry and ran a Youth Club in Toxteth from 1958 to 1963. The commentary told us little and showed 1940s/1950s poverty mixed with 1960s/1970s (footage). Unless one lived in Liverpool, the film told us little, other than concentrating on the poverty. The Overhead [Railway] was in such a poor state [that] it was demolished in 1962/63.”

“Rather pompous; too many tired old quotes; inappropriate music. Occasionally moving footage but a long way away from the [fierce?] emotions of my Liverpool childhood, as dark as the sewage we paddled in!”

“Too personal, and [the] somewhat self-indulgent narration detracted from the visual images.”

“Gag the narrator, please!”

“The editor should have used her scissors!”

“No end!”


A:19, B:17, C:6, D:0, E:1 to give 81%