Sunday, March 29, 2009

Film # 119: Ryan's Daughter

I had long stayed away from David Lean's Ryan's Daughter (1970) because it had been so thoroughly drubbed by critics upon its release. But, in watching it in its newest DVD release, I was convinced that it was nearly as fine, in its own way, as Lean's previous efforts; it was really given the shaft by snooty film writers who expected something more "important" from the Oscar-winning director who toiled famously, and disastrously, on the film; the rainy coastal Irish locations refused to cooperate with the crew, and led to an expanded shooting schedule and ballooning budget; after waiting weeks to get even 30 seconds of useable film, everybody stateside thought Lean insane for going forth with the project. Ryan's Daughter strikes me as an intensely personal David Lean film, one more concerned with the more intimate stories of history rather than the broad likes of Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, and even the similar A Passage to India. Watching it now, Ryan's Daughter seems like a unfathomably gorgeous, if slightly overlong, trip into another world.

Basically, the film is screenwriter Robert Bolt's homage to Flaubert's Madame Bovary. Sylvia Miles is excellent as Rosy, the homely daughter of an Irish pub owner, who desperately marries a stodgy, aging Irish schoolteacher (Robert Mitchum). Disappointed by his bedroom performance (in a very sad scene), Rosy turns her eyes to Randolph Doryan (Christopher Jones), a shell-shocked British veteran of WWI who finds his way into this judgmental Irish town (the scene where he first arrives, tapping down the cobblestones with his wooden leg, is also extremely memorable). Rosy takes her desire for this man to its furthest extreme (leading to one of the greatest love scenes ever filmed, with Rosy meeting her British soldier on horseback in order to tryst amid the march of nature, as you can see below):

I'm not blind to the film's faults, its main one being Robert Bolt's sometimes tired screenplay. Bolt seems most engaged with the story's more intimate side; where he tries to fold in the Irish Troubles in order to make the film more political, a la Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, the film wobbles. I think you needed the Irish Troubles as a factor in the film in order to show the ultra-forbidden nature of the central romance. The climax--retrieving the black market guns being delivered seaside during a raging storm--does feel tacked on, and not nearly compelling as a political struggle. But it also sets up Miles/Mitchum's ultimate fate at the hands of the Brit-hating township, so I can forgive its presence. Ryan's Daughter ain't Lawrence of Arabia or even A Man for All Seasons, script-wise. But we couldn't expect Robert Bolt to hand us Grand Slams at every bat; that said, this film has plenty of fine scripting in it, to be sure (the movie hasn't garnered its small but rabid cult for nothing). Add to that the emotive Oscar-winning photography by Freddie Young, some exacting sound work and gorgeous art direction, a surprisingly gentle Robert Mitchum, a flighty Sarah Miles, mournful Christopher Jones (I like that the teardrop-like scar on his cheek fades away as he gets deeper into passion with Miles), scolding Trevor Howard as the town priest, suspicious Leo McKern as Miles' father (the title Ryan), and the superb, unrecognizable John Mills in an Oscar-winning performance as the town fool, Ryan's Daughter should rightfully take its place, critics be damned, amongst David Lean's most well-regarded efforts.

SIDE NOTE: There's a cozy NYC pub named after the film located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, on East 85th St. between 1st and 2nd Avenues. I recommend the place highly, if only for its Irish coziness and neighborhood regulars.


Anonymous said...

350 East 85th Street between 1st and 2nd

Dean Treadway said...

Thanks! Correction made!

Anonymous said...

I loved Ryan's Daughter. I watched it in my late teens and forgot about it for many years, only watching it again almost 30 years later. My god, Christopher Jones - whatever his failings, he was so handsome! That sort of beauty shouldn't be allowed. I was really moved by the love story, the beauty of the film and the awful sadness and beauty of the forbidden love affair. Gorgeous. It must have really hit a cord deeply at 18 or so because 30 years later it really reawakened so many memories and feelings. Whatever its faults and the awful problems of Christopher Jones during filming, I still loved this film and have watched it so many times. Thank you David Lean!


I remembered you for fifty years. Yes, fifty. You made an impact on my life and I thank you for the memories. God Speed Chris, you are truly missed. RIP you did just fine.