A critical failure on it’s release in 1970, David Lean’s follow up to Lawrence of Arabia is an unusual and beguiling film. Robert Bolt’s screen play reworks Madame Bovary to occupied Ireland in 1916. The star studded cast includes Robert Mitchum, Trevor Howard and John Mills. Sarah Miles is the ‘daughter’ of the films title, the emotional heart of the film as Rosy Ryan/Emma Bovary. However, it’s the scenery and dramatic west of Ireland coastline that dominates the film.
Shot on Super Panavision 70, by Lean’s cinematographer Freddie Young, the rugged coastline of the Dingle Peninsula is both beautiful and sinister. More than just a backdrop, the coves, castles and storms play an important narrative role in the film. The vast beach at Inch (now one of Ireland’s leading surf spots) is the setting for many of the films most important scenes. The film was nominated for 4 academy awards, winning 2 Oscars for John Mills, Best Supporting Actor and Freddie Young, Best Cinematography. If the Oscars had a category for best supporting scenery then the film would easily have won another.
Whilst the plot centers around the relationships between the Rosy and her lovers, the emotional heart of the film is the relationship between Miles’ character and reality. Her perception of love and life are so at odds with the day to day reality of living in a poverty stricken village that she exists in a parallel dream world, only occasionally visiting the mundane struggle of daily existence. Sarah Miles’ portrayal of this vibrant yet troubled and dislocated woman is excellent, her vivacity smashing onto the rocks of Mithcum’s taciturn school teacher who, although initially seems emotionally literate, sinks into a sullen silence in the face of his wife’s infidelities.
The film was much criticised on it’s release and seen by various interested parties as a critique of the Easter rising and the church’s dominant role Ireland. However, to read the film in this way is surely to see this subtle and complex film as a simple piece of agit-prop. Such a view also underestimates Lean as a film maker who makes great use of the location and cast. Audience attitudes to Ireland and the central characters have changed considerably in the 30 years since the film was made, in some ways this highlights the strengths of the film rather than undermine it.
2009-06-28 15:37:00 GMT permalink