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UK 1970
Directed by
David Lean
186 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Ryan's Daughter

One of the last of MGM's 70mm epics, Lean's film is a narrative spread over too large a canvas. Where the smallness of the characters in the landscape worked in his peerless Lawrence of Arabia (1962) because of the mythic proportions of the subject matter, and even in Doctor Zhivago because of the epic historical context, transposing the same technique to the wind-swept shores of Ireland and the intimate story of romantic love gone wrong makes its cinematic contrivances too evident. Of course, Lean's flair for imposing visuals (credit here to his regular photographer Freddie Young) is evident but there are too many weaknesses in the script by Robert Bolt (who also scripted the other two films) and the overall impression is that this is a pyrrhic triumph of style over content.

Robert Mitchum plays the mild-mannered husband to Rosy Ryan (Sarah Miles) a rather spoilt young girl who has an affaire de coeur with a young British officer (American Christopher Jones, a one-time '60s pin-up boy who went seriously off the rails in the 1970s and has since never made another film).

Mitchum, despite turning in a well-controlled performance, is incongruously cast and the romance between the two lovers not only commences with breathtaking alacrity but never has a shred of credibility, Miles being no Julie Christie and Jones barely uttering a word (and what he did was dubbed). There's a shoddily-handled sub-plot about the IRA and John's Mill's Quasimodo-like village idiot is also seriously mis-judged (in typical Academy appreciation of the over-stated, he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for it). On the upside, aside from some splendid purely visual moments, Trevor Howard gives a stand-out performance as the classically pragmatic parish priest and for all its flaws Ryan's Daughter is still evidently the work of a fine film-maker. Notwithstanding, the film was critically drubbed in its day and Lean did not make another for 14 years.




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