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Ryan's Daughter

film poster by Howard Terpning
Directed by David Lean
Produced by Anthony Havelock-Allan
Written by Robert Bolt
Starring Robert Mitchum
Sarah Miles
John Mills
Christopher Jones
Leo McKern
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography Freddie Young
Editing by Norman Savage
Distributed by MGM Pictures
Running time 195 min.
Language English
Budget $15,000,000

Ryan's Daughter is a 1970 film directed by David Lean. The film, set in 1916, tells the story of a married Irish woman who has an affair with a British officer during World War I, despite opposition from her nationalist neighbours. The film is a very loose adaptation of Gustave Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary.

The film stars Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, John Mills, Christopher Jones, Trevor Howard and Leo McKern, with a score by Maurice Jarre. It was photographed in Super Panavision 70 by Freddie Young.

Although a critical and commercial failure, it was a two-time Academy Award winner.

Contents

Plot

The film takes place in the isolated village of Killary on the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland during World War I. The villagers are nationalist and exclusionary, taunting Michael (John Mills) (the village idiot) and British soldiers from a nearby army base. They are resentful of Rosy Ryan (Sarah Miles), the spoilt daughter of the local publican Tom Ryan (Leo McKern), who himself is an informer for the British hoping to keep the peace in the village. In public, Ryan pretends to be a staunch nationalist; in an early scene, before the viewers learn he is an informer, he strongly supports the recently suppressed Easter Rising, referring to the rebels as "our boys".

Rosy is bored with her humdrum life and fantasizes about the outside world — much to the chagrin of the local priest, Father Hugh Collins (Trevor Howard), an old, sharp-witted and highly influential person who knows all that goes on in the village. Rosy falls in love with the local schoolmaster, Charles Shaughnessy (Robert Mitchum), who has come back from a trip to Dublin. She imagines that Shaughnessy will be able to add excitement to her life, though he tries to convince her otherwise. The two ultimately marry, but Rosy quickly becomes discontented with her marriage, though she doesn't understand why.

Later on, Major Randolph Doryan (Christopher Jones) arrives to take command of the local army base. A veteran of World War I, he has been awarded a Victoria Cross, but has a crippled leg and suffers from shell shock. Rosy is instantly attracted to him. Michael is also present and absent-mindedly bangs his leg on the wall, causing Doryan to have a flashback to the trenches and collapse in a nervous breakdown. When he recovers, he is comforted by Rosy. The two passionately kiss until they are interrupted by the arrival of Ryan and the townspeople. The next day, the two meet in a forest and have a lengthy liaison.

Charles becomes suspicious of Rosy, but keeps his thoughts to himself. While on a trip to the beach with his students, he finds Rosy and Doryan's footprints in the sand and tracks them to a cave; later he finds a conch shell in Rosy's dresser, but refuses to confront her about it. However, Michael has also seen the two lovers, and having improvised a British officer's uniform, he tips off the townspeople about the affair. The townspeople turn on Rosy, deriding her as a "British officer's whore".

Slea Head, on the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland where Ryan's Daughter was filmed.

One night, in the midst of a fierce storm, IRB leader Tim O'Leary (Barry Foster) — who had killed a police constable earlier — and a small band of comrades arrive in Ryan's pub and strong-arm Ryan into helping them recover a shipment of German arms from the storm. When they leave him alone, he tips off the British.

Soon the entire town arrives at the beach to help. However, O'Leary and his followers are stopped by Major Doryan and his men on the road and arrested. O'Leary is shot by Doryan and wounded during an escape attempt, during which Doryan has another flashback and collapses.

Charles tells Rosy that he is aware of her infidelity, but is willing to allow it to "burn out". However, that night, Charles watches Rosy return to Doryan. The next morning, he wanders off along the beach in his nightclothes, until he is found by Father Collins. Though Rosy declares the affair over, Charles decides to leave Rosy. Then, however, a mob accuses Rosy of having informed the British of the arms shipment and strip her and shear off her hair. Father Collins stops them. Ryan, deeply ashamed, is unable to confess and save his daughter from taking the punishment which is due to him.

Meanwhile, Doryan is taking a walk along the beach when he comes across Michael. Michael leads Doryan to a cache of arms — including dynamite — that was not recovered, and after Michael runs off, Doryan commits suicide by detonating the explosives.

The next day, Rosy and Charles leave town, enduring the taunts of the villagers as they go. Father Collins pleads with them not to end their marriage. As they get on the bus to Dublin, their future is unclear.

Cast

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Casting

Alec Guinness turned down the role of Father Collins: it had been written with him in mind, but Guinness, as a devout Roman Catholic, objected to what he felt was an inaccurate portrayal of a Catholic priest. His conflicts with Lean while making Doctor Zhivago also contributed.

Paul Scofield was Lean's first choice for the part of Shaughnessy, but he was unable to escape a theater commitment. George C. Scott, Anthony Hopkins and Patrick McGoohan were considered but not approached, and Gregory Peck lobbied for the role but gave up after Robert Mitchum was approached.

The role of Major Doryan was written for Marlon Brando. Brando accepted, but problems with the production of Burn! forced him to drop out. Peter O'Toole, Richard Harris and Richard Burton were also considered. Lean then saw Christopher Jones in The Looking Glass War (1969) and decided he had to have Jones for the part. However, Lean was dissatisfied with his performance, and he had to be dubbed by Julian Hollaway.

Critical reception

Upon its initial release, the film received a very hostile reception from the critical community. Roger Ebert felt that "Lean's characters, well written and well acted, are finally dwarfed by his excessive scale."[1] Many attribute the bad reviews to critics' expectations being too high as Lean had directed three epic blockbusters in a row before Ryan's Daughter. The bad reaction to this film is what many say caused Lean not to make another film for more than ten years. (Others dispute this, citing the fact that Lean tried but was unable to get several projects off the ground, most notably The Bounty.) The film was moderately successful worldwide at the box office, although it was one of the most successful films of 1970 in Britain and ran at a West End theater for almost two years straight.

The film has also been criticised for its perceived depiction of the Irish proletariat as uncivilised compared with the occupying British forces and the Catholic Church. Moreover some have criticised the film as an attempt to blacken the legacy of the 1916 Easter Rising and the subsequent Irish War of Independence in relation to the eruption of "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland at the time of the film's release. The depiction of the mob mistreating Rosy, one of the best dramatic sequences in the film, brings to mind the historical examples of 1944's liberated France — where after Liberation women accused of having slept with German soldiers were often mistreated in such ways.

Since the film's recent release on DVD, Ryan's Daughter has been reconsidered by many critics, and has been claimed by many to be an overlooked masterpiece, countering many of the criticisms (such as its alleged "excessive scale") in the process. Other elements, such as John Mills' caricature 'village idiot' (ironically an Oscar-winning performance) have withstood the test of time less well.[2] The film is still not as widely accepted as Lean's other epics, and its critical reputation remains mixed at best. It stands out from his previous work, being characterized by a slower pace, more expansive and allegorical directing, and less dialogue than in previous films, though the film builds up tension, even if it does so slowly.

Awards

Academy Awards

Also Nominated for

Production

Robert Bolt's original idea was to make a film of Madame Bovary, starring Sarah Miles. David Lean read the script and said that he did not find it interesting, but suggested to Bolt that he would like to rework it into another setting. The film still retains parallels with Flaubert's novel — Rosy is Emma Bovary, Charles is her husband, Major Doryan is Rodolfo and Leon, Emma's lovers.

Lean had to wait a year before a suitably dramatic storm appeared. The image was kept clear by a glass disk spinning in front of the lens. Leo McKern was injured and badly shaken up while filming the storm sequence, nearly drowning; he also lost his glass eye. He also disliked the amount of time spent working on the project, and afterwards claimed he would never act again (indeed, he did not act in films or television for several years). His comment on the experience was, "I don't like to be paid £500 a week for sitting down and playing Scrabble."

Reportedly, Robert Mitchum became dissatisfied with working on the film and threatened suicide in an attempt to get out of his contract. Upon hearing of this, Robert Bolt said to him: "Well, if you just finish working on this wretched little film and then do yourself in, I'd be happy to stand the expenses of your burial." Mitchum clashed with Lean and famously said that, "Working with David Lean is like constructing the Taj Mahal out of toothpicks." Despite this, Mitchum confided to friends and family that he felt Ryan's Daughter was among his best roles and he always regretted the negative response the film received. In a radio interview, Mitchum would claim (despite the difficult production) that Lean was one of the best directors he'd ever worked with. [3]

Christopher Jones and Lean clashed frequently; in addition, Sharon Tate, a friend of Jones's who he later claimed he was having an affair with, was killed by Charles Manson and his followers during filming, devastating the actor. Jones and Sarah Miles also grew to dislike one another, leading to trouble when filming the love scenes. Gerald Sim's character was virtually a bit part in the script, but due to difficulties with Jones, his scene was re-written so that Sim would speak virtually all of the dialogue in the scene.

Ryan's Daughter was the last feature film photographed entirely in the 65 mm Super Panavision format until Far and Away (1992), which was shot largely at the same locations. Owing to bad weather, many of the beach scenes were actually filmed in Capetown, South Africa.

The village in the film was built by the production company from stone so that it could withstand the storms. Villagers from the town of Dunquin were hired as extras. The area was at the time economically destitute, but the amount of money spent in the town — nearly a million pounds — revived the local economy and led to increased immigration to the Dingle Peninsula.

In the scene before Doryan commits suicide, there is a cut from a sunset to Charles striking a match — a sly reference to Lawrence of Arabia, with its famous cut from Peter O'Toole blowing out a match to a sunrise in the desert.

References

External links


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