"Ryan’s Daughter" Is a Love Triangle With Passion, Adultery, Rebellion and a Village Idiot
Ryan’s Daughter – 1970.
“Ryan’s Daughter” is a love story that evolves into a love triangle set in the epic splendor of an isolated village on Ireland’s scenic Dingle Peninsula. Like all love triangles, it ends in a disaster that becomes a tragedy.
Rosy Ryan (Sarah Miles) seeks to find that certain something that is missing in her life and thinks she finds it when she announces her love for her former schoolteacher, Charles Shaughnessy (Robert Mitchum), who is old enough to be her father.
Unfortunately for Rosy, her marriage brings her love but not passion. It is passion she finds when she meets and instantly falls into the arms of Major Randolph Doryan (Christopher Jones), a young British officer assigned to the village. Major Doryan is a World War I hero who ends up in the village as part of the British occupation while the war continues on in Europe. The villagers resent the British presence and will jump at a chance to fight for their freedom.
Tim O’Leary (Barry Foster) leads a resistance force that awaits the arrival of German weapons so they can finally arm and defend themselves against the British takeover. The villagers become aware of Rosy’s infidelity through the village idiot Michael (John Mills) who is mute and considered a half-wit, but Michael is clever enough to steal away the major’s uniform and medal while he is busy making love to Rosy in a secluded island cave.
Michael adores Rosy but instinctively knows he has no chance. He feels a kinship with Major Doryan as they both suffer from profound limps. Both the limp and shell shock are from Doryan’s war injuries.
Tom Ryan (Leo McKern) is Rosy’s father and owner of the local pub. He is a big freedom talker who is taken at his word to be a freedom fighter by the rebel leader O’Leary, who leans on him for support in gathering up the German weapons that are dropped off at sea and floating to shore. You just have to see the storm scene, huge waves are crashing against the rocky shore while villagers are scrambling to recover broken boxes of rifles, bullets and dynamite.
When the rebels seek to haul off the weapons stash, they are met by British soldiers who have been tipped off by Tom Ryan. O’Leary is shot by Major Doryan and captured while trying to escape. It is assumed he will be hung for leading the rebellion.
Once exposed, the villagers consider the unfaithful Rosy to be the “British officer’s whore” as well as a disloyal and dishonorable informant when in fact it is her father. Ryan, whose wife has died, has spoiled his daughter growing up, and it is he who is the silent informer for the British that is never exposed, even when he has an opportunity to save his daughter from harm. The villagers become a mob and eventually beat up Rosy’s husband Charles, strip Rosy naked and cut off her lovely long hair. This is apparently the ultimate disgrace in an Irish village, being ostracized and then humiliated.
Major Doryan ends up on the beach with Michael who has recovered some dynamite. When Doryan realizes his affair with Rosy is over, he uses the dynamite to commit suicide.
Rosy’s husband is aware of her adultery but hopes it will run its course, and he will be there when it is over. When he finds he is unable to handle it, he decides to leave Rosy. They both know that they must leave the village and are led out of town by Father Collins (Trevor Howard), the Catholic priest.
Director David Lean had to wait a year before a storm dramatic enough appeared on the Atlantic Ocean to film the weapons recovery scene. This turned into a masterpiece of filming by Freddie Young who won an Oscar for his effort.
Cinematographer Freddie Young captures the raw beauty of Ireland with its ocean cliffs, green countryside, lazy pastures and hidden forest love nest. Young shot the film entirely in a 65mm widescreen format and in Super Panavision. It was the last such film shot until 22 years later when Ron Howard filmed “Far and Away” in 1992.
The storm scene is nothing short of spectacular as well as real. Leo McKern (as Rosy’s father Tom) was injured and badly shaken up while filming the storm sequence and nearly drowned. McKern was so upset he vowed never to act again and did not for several years. The film includes a passionate love scene between Major Doryan and Rosy who was partially exposed (pretty hot for a film released in 1970).
In addition to Young’s Oscar, John Mills won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for his role as the mute half-wit. Mills bowed at the Academy Awards ceremony when receiving his Oscar and said nothing in the shortest acceptance speech in Oscar history. Sarah Miles received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress and the film earned another nomination for Best Sound.
Mills also won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. Sarah Miles (Best Actress) and Trevor Howard (Best Supporting Actor) won Golden Globe nominations. A lot of critics at the time were not kind to David Lean as director of Ryan’s Daughter. Lean was no slouch. He earned two Best Director Oscars for “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and “Lawrence of Arabia”.
Lean was also nominated for a Best Director Oscar for “Doctor Zhivago” which won 5 Oscars and had 4 other nominations. Robert Bolt wrote Doctor Zhivago as well as Ryan’s Daughter and “A Man for All Seasons”. Bolt was twice married to Sarah Miles.
Lean would outperform his critics. He was voted the 9th greatest film director of all time in the BFI (British Film Institute) “Directors Top Directors” poll in 2002. This is a slow developing romance. The film runs for 3 hours and 16 minutes. Like almost all of Lean’s films, Ryan’s Daughter was hugely popular with moviegoers and movie lovers alike.
Ryan’s Daughter is a story about relationships and an epic film worth watching.