Terence Davies, the English filmmaker who directed several classic autobiographical films and literary adaptations including The House Of Mirth and The Neon Bible, has died at age 77.
Davies’ official Instagram account announced the news on Saturday, noting he had died ‘peacefully at home’ earlier in the day following a ‘short illness.’
The director and screenwriter, who was born in Liverpool in 1945, launched his career — and quickly became known as one of Britain’s greatest filmmakers — with the autobiographical films Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and The Long Day Closes (1992).
Later, he followed those intimate films up with productions featuring major stars from the US and UK, including the divisive Gena Rowlands–starring adaptation of The Neon Bible (1995), the Gillian Anderson–fronted Edith Wharton adaptation The House Of Mirth (2000) and the romantic Drama The Deep Blue Sea (2011), which starred Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston.
Davies’ most recent feature film was 2021’s Benediction, in which both Jack Lowden and Peter Capaldi played the English war poet Siegfried Sassoon.
The Long Day Closes: Terence Davies, the English filmmaker who directed several classic autobiographical films and literary adaptations including The House Of Mirth and The Neon Bible, has died at age 77; seen in 2016 in NYC
Saying goodbye: Davies’ official Instagram announced that he had died on Saturday ‘peacefully at home’ following a ‘short illness’
Modern classics: Davies was known for several autobiographical films and literary adaptations. One of his most popular films was 2011’s romantic drama The Deep Blue Sea, starring Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston
He has never directed a film set in the present day.
‘Being in the past makes me feel safe because I understand that world,’ the prolific filmmaker told The Guardian in 2022.
Davies was born to a large Catholic family in the months after the end of World War II, he left school at 16 and worked as a clerk for decade before enrolling in Coventry Drama School.
His first film, a short named Children, was written while he was in school and is autobiographical.
After the release of that film, he attended the National Film School where he made another biographical film about the years he worked as a clerk called Madonna and Child.
His third film Death and Transfiguration completed what became known as The Terence Davies Trilogy and centered on him musing on the possible circumstances of his death.
The films dealt with his memories of being bullied at school, the cruelty of his psychotic father and coming to terms with his homosexuality.
Davies’ father died of cancer when he was seven and in the custom of the day, the body was displayed in his home’s parlous for 10 days.
‘You could smell death. It was awful. I had to sleep in the bed he died in. I still get these very bad nightmares where someone is coming into the room to kill me,’ he said.
And he didn’t stop there with drawing themes for his films from his own life. His next two films, 1988’s Distant Voices, Still Lives and 1992s The Long Day Closes, also came from real life events.
Distant Voices, Still Closes was about a violent patriarch, played by the late Pete Posthlewaite. When the actor commented on the violence of a scene in which the father beats his daughter with a broom until it breaks, Davies gave him his sister’s phone number and said ‘Call her.’
The Long Day Closes explored the years between his abusive father’s death and the beginning of being bullied at school, a time that the filmmaker said he was ‘sick with happiness.’
Catholicism, homosexuality, poetry and torment were Davies’ preferred topics but despite the seriousness of those subjects, he infused his films with humor.
‘Humour is so beguiling,’ Davies told The Guardian, ‘Especially when it masks tragedy.’
In 1995, he adapted John Kennedy Toole’s novel The Neon Bible starring Gena Rowlands and received a BAFTA nomination for his efforts.
In 2000, he adapted the Edith Wharton novel The House of Mirth starring Gillian Anderson and Eric Stoltz.
In 2007, Davies made a return to autobiographical filmmaking with the documentary Of Time and the City, which focused on the lost years of his youth.
He directed A Quiet Passion in 2016, which was about the life of poet Emily Dickinson, starring Cynthia Nixon.
He talked about making that film in his interview with The Guardian.
‘When Emily says, ‘I have many faults, there is much to rectify’ – well, that’s me. I still feel guilty about times I misbehaved. It really rakes my conscience. I once told my mother to shut up. How could I have said that?’
He was asked how old her was when he said that. He replied: ‘Eight.’
‘I’ve not done anything horrible to anybody,’ he continued. ‘But when you follow the rules, it can become destructive.
‘You can end up not liking yourself. And I don’t think I do. I’ve said this a million times but I wish I were someone else. Someone very good-looking and very stupid. Then the world is your oyster.’
He was asked if he’s attracted to that kind of man. ‘Not at all. I just want to be them. You’ve only got to look at reality TV. After one series, you’re worth £2m. How do they manage that?,’ he paused for a minute before adding: ‘Big pecs, I expect.’
In 2021 he made Benediction, a film about the poet Siegfried Sassoon, which he also said he can call biographical.
‘Sassoon was looking for redemption. I was as well, until I realized that you can’t find it if it’s not in you.’
‘Between 15 and 22, I fought my doubts [about religion] because you were told that was the work of the devil.’
By the time he was 22, he realized it was ‘all lies. Just men in frocks.’
But his Catholic upbringing still clings to him: ‘I don’t like to make a fuss about anything. I always think I’ll get into trouble. I’m obedient and that’s what Catholicism is about. The dreadful thing is you can’t live up to its ideals, so you always fail.’
If the legendary filmmaker has one regret, it’s that he never won a BAFTA.
‘There’s also part of me that thinks: isn’t it just vanity? If a film lives every time it’s seen, that’s the real reward.’