Friday, July 10, 2020

Midnight Special: Ryan's Daughter (Spoilers)

'Doing nothing is a dangerous occupation!' 
My very first David Lean film was Lawrence of Arabia followed by Summertime, two films that I decided to seek out after seeing/hearing them mentioned in passing in other media. The former in Ridley Scott's Prometheus (of all films) and the latter in the acclaimed anime Monster. I decided to check out Ryan's Daughter because Ed Harris, my favorite actor is a big fan of the film that he even sought out the places where it was filmed during his trip to Ireland. Set in Kirrary, a small isolated village in the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland between World War I and Easter Rising. It tells the story of a young woman named Rosy Ryan who's bored with her life in the small village and abruptly marries the widower and local schoolteacher Charles Shaughnessy. Rosy is spoiled by her father Thomas Ryan the local pub owner who raised her to think she's better than everyone else in the village but after a few months into her marriage, Rosy confesses to Father Hugh Collins with his prodding that she's dissatisfied with her married life and the priest tries to knock some sense into her. An hour into the film Major Randolph Doryan arrives in the village where he is newly stationed in the British military base nearby. We spend time with the major who aside from his limp due to an injury suffered during the war we come to find out that he also suffers from PTSD. The major travels to the village during one of his morning walks and meets Rosy at her father's pub (while he's away) and Michael the village idiot, his PTSD is triggered by Michael but he is comforted by Rosy and that's where the film picks up.

Sarah Miles as Rosy Ryan
There's a few things that might across people's mind after the film ends. One I'm sure that's common is how it's a nearly 4-hour film about a woman's adultery and shot in the vein of Lawrence of Arabia but exchanging its sweeping landscapes of the Arabian dessert for the lush and gorgeous exteriors of the remote Irish countryside. A criticism that's justified but completely ignores other elements that bring the story to life. Rosy is spoiled, brash, reckless and naive. Her only form of entertainment while is reading a book called The King's Mistress (but implies that she was masturbating to it) that she believes a physical relationship is like, so when she finally experiences it for the first time during her wedding night with Charles she's disappointed because it was nothing like what's described in the book. Ironically Rosy gets into a relationship with a British officer who serves the King which I thought was a nice touch once I caught on to what was happening later on in the film. I'll admit I found it hard to sympathise with her at first because of her impulses regardless of those she ends up hurting later on. Of course I can't place all the blame on her because of the way she was brought up by her father and I can't blame Charles either because he has always treated her with respect more than most men in the village did so when Charles finally confronts her about where she had been and what she's been doing it was slightly satisfying to see her get taken down a peg or two. Rosy does grow by the end of the film and gets some sympathy from me, sadly Rosy is beaten and publicly stripped in the third half of the film which I'll talk more about later. 

Trevor Howard as  Father Collins and Robert Mitchum as Charles Shaughnessy
Sarah Miles did such a great job in making me dislike her character and impressively making me feel for her character later on. The film may devote most of its runtime to Rosy and her affair with Doryan but the supporting characters who love and care for her are far more interesting to watch. One of the two characters that stood out to me was Charles Shaughnessy played by Robert Mitchum, I'm not going to lie if the role was played by any other actor I wouldn't have given it much of my attention. Mitchum is know for playing Hollywood tough guys but his portrayal of a gentle and decent man who loves and respects his young wife but can't satisfy her needs proves that Hollywood needs to get over typecasting actors in the same roles over and over again and give them something new to do. Mitchum does this all with ease without ever going over-the-top and even does a great job with his Irish brogue that you forget it's Mitchum on screen, his performance here really made me respect him even more as an actor and then of course there's the whiskey-soaked Father Hugh Collins played by Trevor Howard who gives the townspeople his council when they need it, and while he does love Rosy the way a father does, he's also critical of her choices but never judges or humiliates her. While I loved watching both Mitchum and Howard play their characters I can't say the same for John Mills as Michael the village idiot who loves Rosy and only wants her approval. Mills later won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his over-the-top and hammy performance while Howard's got snubbed. Evin Crowley as Moureen is jealous and hateful, who quickly targets those who are vulnerable and can't defend themselves, she's the embodiment of the mob mentality of the townspeople.Come to think of it the film's weakest link is Christopher Jones as Major Doryan who's serviceable as eye-candy while also doing a good job playing a man haunted by war but you never really get a sense of his personality outside of his PTSD, he develops an affair with Rosy yet they barely even talk to each other throughout the film that Doryan is basically there as an idea not an actual character.

John Mills as Michael and Christopher Jones as Major Doryan
I began to question what the point of the movie was by the time I reached the third act and yes, I know that was inspired by Gustav Flaubert's Madame Bovary about a woman who wants to live beyond her means but the movie made me feel like there was something more going than just the affair. Was it about the consequences of having an affair outside of marriage? Was it about the constraints of living in a small community where there's nothing to do other than gossip? Or was it the primitive mindset of an entire village and its effects on the individual? It can be all of things in my opinion but on thing I'm certain of is the theme of cowardice and the part it plays in the story. Rosy can't bring it to herself to tell Charles about how she truly when she's with him and Charles didn't have the guts to confront Rosy about her affair with Doryan since he though it would run its course but it's Thomas Ryan played by Leo McKern, Rosy's own father who commits the most sinful act of cowardice. When the Irish Republican Brotherhood arrives during a stormy night and Tom is charged with cutting off the telephone lines that might alert the British troops in the nearby base, instead he personally calls the troops betraying his own people which ends up in a domino effect of sorts. Rosy's affair with Major Doryan is revealed publicly as she tries to comfort him when he gets a PTSD episode in front of the whole village after he shoots IRB leader Tim O' Leary played by Barry Foster. Later that day, the townspeople form a mob and gather outside of the schoolhouse demanding that Rosy be publicly stripped because she 'ratted out' O'Leary and his agents to the British due to her relationship with Doryan. The townspeople seize Rosy as Charles is beaten and pinned down by several men and Rosy is beaten and stripped off of her clothes in front of everyone and has her hair sheared off. Her father sees this happen but instead of confessing his betrayal and saving her from the humiliation he instead runs away from the scene that effectively traumatises his daughter. 

Rosy about to be publicly stripped outside the schoolhouse.
I thought this was very effective as a film, I wasn't as emotional about it as let's say Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory but it did stay with me after a few hours of seeing it particularly when Rosy gets humiliated by the townspeople. I know the critics tore it to pieces when it came out, citing the epic scope of how it was filmed for a modest love story that it affected David Lean so much that he didn't make a film for fourteen years until Passage to India. Snooping around on the internet about the behind the scenes during filming it's a miracle everyone survived. Leo McKern nearly lost his glass eye when they were filming the scene in the storm that he quit acting for two years, Sarah Miles and Christopher Jones did not get along during filming that she asked Robert Mitchum to drug Jones' breakfast to make him get over his disgust during the day they filmed the love scene in the forest leading Jones' to believe he was having a nervous breakdown, later prompting him to quit acting. He only appeared in one other film. Trevor Howard was hospitalised after falling off a horse, Howard and John Mills were saved by frogmen from drowning after a fishing boat scene went wrong. I'm almost sure that the making of this film would make for a great film all by itself.

Rosy taking a walk on the beach and runs into Father Collins.
Thankfully despite it's poor reception among critics Pauline Kael's among them (which apparently caused David Lean to stop making films for fourteen years) time has been kind to Ryan's Daughter despite the film's troubles during production as well as the aftermath of its release. Cinematographer Freddie Young always works very well with Lean and here he shoots in Super Panavision 70 capturing the untouched shores of Ireland while also being bold enough to agree to film during a storm. Maurice Jarr√© Lean's go-to film composer makes a memorable score but I thought it was among the weakest part of the film because of how repetitive it got. However, I can't recommend the movie to everybody but it's a rewarding one as long as you can get through the pacing and the runtime.

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