Ryan’s Daughter (1970) Review

7 05 2011

Copyright 1970 Faraway Productions

★ ★ ★ 1/2

This was the final of David Lean’s epics made after 1955 that I had yet to see.  The accompanying films in the bunch were Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zchivago and A Passage to India.  A huge Lean fan, I had always heard that this was his least impressive effort.  Actually, because of Pauline Kael’s scathing review of this film upon its release, Lean would wait 14 years to direct another motion picture.  The film itself, however, though very long, is not a bad movie by any means.  In relation to David Lean films it might not stand out, but in relation to other movies in general, it’s actually a pretty good movie.

The story takes place in a small town in Ireland in 1916, as British troops are just beginning to occupy the Irish countryside.  On a grand scale, the film tackles plot points of the rebel’s fight towards arming themselves under the lead of Tim O’Leary (Barry Foster).  Yet, the real crux of the story as the title suggests is focused on the bar keep’s, Thomas Ryan ‘s (Leo McKern), daughter (Sarah Miles).  A spoiled young girl, constantly referred to as “princess” by her father, falls in love with the kind, mild-mannered school teacher, Charles Shaughnessy (Robert Mitchum).  Though he is much older than she, they eventually marry and settle into the schoolhouse quarters on the edge of town.  At first a happy marriage, she soon starts to look for more in life.  When a crippled British officer (Christopher Jones) comes to the local British camp, she immediately falls for him.  Their torrid affair dominates the middle portion of the film.  So, essentially, you have a love affair set to the back drop of political turmoil in 1910s Ireland.  In the end, the affair proves a terrible mistake for everyone invovled.

As usual with a late Lean film, everything about this movie is epic.  The production design, the locations and the sweeping camera movements are amazingly well put together.  To top it all off is the beautiful, Academy award-winning cinematography by Freddie Young.  I could go on for paragraphs about Young’s work; every shot in this three hour film is just absolutely breathtaking.  I can only hope one day to possess the creative and technical brilliance that he exuded behind the camera.  But, I must say, that this type of film does lend itself quite well to cinematography with its locations and period setting.

The acting, on a whole is very well-handled.  Sarah Miles and Robert Mitchum both did incredible jobs in their leading roles.  Christopher Jones, who played the British officer, I had heard was very hard to deal with on set and they had to dub his lines over in post.  All in all, they must have done a good job cutting around his performance because I didn’t really notice it being that bad.  John Mills, who played the village idiot, as Tropic Thunder would suggest actually went pretty much full retard, and won Best Supporting Actor for it.  He plays the part with such childlike wonder though, that I can easily see how he pulled off such an award even though his character never spoke a word in the film.  Another fine turn was made by British actor Trevor Howard as the patriarchal preist who brought equality to the small town with an iron fist.

All in all, I don’t see why people give this film such bad reviews.  Yes, I agree that it could have probably been 30 minutes or so shorter than its three hour and fifteen minute running time.  Yet, for such a long running time, the movie carries interest and entertains surprisingly well.  To me, this was definitely as good as  A Passage to India.  Sure, it wasn’t Lawrence of Arabia or Bridge on the River Kwai, but you can’t strike brilliance too many times in a row in one lifetime.

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