Ryan's Daughter

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Ryan's Daughter
Ryans daughter.jpg
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
Trevor Howard
Leo McKern
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography Freddie Young
Editing by Norman Savage
Studio Faraway Productions
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • November 9, 1970 (1970-11-09)
Running time 195 minutes
206 minutes (DVD Version)
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $13.3 million[1][2]
Box office $30,846,306 (domestic)[3]
$14.6 million (rentals)

Ryan's Daughter is a 1970 film directed by David Lean.[4][5] 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.

In its initial release, Ryan's Daughter was harshly received by critics[1] but was a box office success, grossing nearly $31 million[3] on a budget of $13.3 million, making the film the eighth highest-grossing picture of 1970. It received two Academy Awards.


The beach between Slea Head and Dunmore Head on the Dingle Peninsula, Ireland, a location where scenes for Ryan's Daughter were filmed.

The film takes place in the fictional isolated village of Kirrary, on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry Ireland during World War I in the year 1916. Rosy Ryan (Sarah Miles) 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). She imagines, though he tries to convince her otherwise, that he will add excitement to her life. They marry, and Rosy quickly becomes discontented.

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, the spoilt daughter of the local publican Tom Ryan (Leo McKern). Ryan pretends to be a staunch nationalist– in an early scene, he strongly supports the recently suppressed Easter Rising, referring to the rebels as "our boys"– but in truth he is an informer for the British.

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 and passionately attracted to him. Michael's absent-minded banging of his leg on the pub bench causes Doryan to flashback to the trenches. He collapses. 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 the forest for a 'gauzy', passionate 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. Michael has also seen the two lovers, however, 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".

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 him into helping them recover a shipment of German arms from the storm. When they leave, Ryan is left alone in possession of the phone, and tips off the British. While doing so he complains: "God, why are you doing this to me?" implying that he supports the British out of genuine loyalty rather than for gain – as the British authorities would not have known it, had he failed to inform them.

Soon, the entire town arrives at the beach to help O'Leary, but he and his followers are stopped by Major Doryan and his men on the road and arrested. O'Leary is shot and wounded by Doryan while attempting to escape.

Charles tells Rosy he is aware of her infatuation, but hopes it will pass. Though Rosy declares the affair over, Charles decides to leave her. That night he sees her return to Doryan. In dismay, he wanders in his nightclothes to the beach, where in the morning Father Collins finds him.

A mob, accusing Rosy of having informed the British of the arms shipment, strip her and shear off her hair. Father Collins arrives before they can do any worse. Ryan, deeply ashamed, has been unable to confess that he's the informer. Rosy, who guesses his guilt, takes the punishment.

Meanwhile, Doryan walks along the beach and comes across Michael, who leads him to a cache of arms–-including dynamite–-that was not recovered. After Michael runs off, Doryan commits suicide by detonating the explosives.

The next day, Rosy and Charles leave for Dublin, enduring the taunts of the villagers as they go. As Charles gets on the small bus, Father Collins counsels him against ending the marriage. Just before the bus leaves, Rosy, who had previously found Michael repulsive to her, very touchingly kisses him on the cheek.



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 theatre 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, and so cast him without ever meeting him. However, unbeknown to Lean, The Looking Glass War had hidden Jones' short height and dubbed his high-pitched voice, and so Lean came to regret his casting decision for the role of the heroic, square-jawed Major. Lean was also dissatisfied with Jones' performance, and ultimately had him dubbed by Julian Holloway.


Robert Bolt's original idea was to make a film of Madame Bovary, starring Sarah Miles. 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 parallels Emma Bovary, Charles is her husband, Major Doryan is analogous to Rodolphe 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.[6] Leo McKern was injured and badly shaken while filming the storm sequence, nearly drowning and losing 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 was initially reluctant to take the role. While he admired the script, he was undergoing a personal crisis at the time and when pressed by Lean as to why he wouldn't be available for filming, told him "I was actually planning on committing suicide." Upon hearing of this, scriptwriter 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, famously saying 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 claimed (despite the difficult production) Lean was one of the best directors he'd worked with.[7]

Christopher Jones and Lean clashed frequently. Sharon Tate, a friend of Jones' with whom he later claimed he was having an affair, 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 Captain Smith character was virtually a bit part in the script, but because of difficulties with Jones' high-pitched voice, which was deemed unsuitable and in need of dubbing, his scene was re-written so that Sim would speak most of the dialogue in the scene.

Ryan's Daughter was the last feature film photographed entirely in the 65mm 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 filmed in Cape Town, 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, which is a sly allusion to Lawrence of Arabia with its famous cut from Peter O'Toole blowing out a match to a sunrise in the desert.

MPAA ratings[edit]

The MPAA originally gave Ryan's Daughter an "R" rating. A nude scene between Miles and Jones, as well as its themes involving infidelity, were the primary reasons for the MPAA's decision.[8] At the time, MGM was having financial trouble and appealed the rating not due to artistic reasons but due to financial reasons.

At the appeal hearing, MGM executives explained that they needed the lower rating to allow more audience into the theatres, otherwise the company would not be able to survive financially. The appeal was overturned and the film received a "GP" rating, which later became "PG". Jack Valenti considered this to be one of the tarnishing marks on the rating system.[9] When MGM resubmitted the film to the MPAA in 1996, it was re-rated "R".

The film is rated  M  in Australia and  M  in New Zealand and contains sexual themes where it was originally rated PG in Australia and PG in New Zealand.


Upon its initial release, the film received a 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."[10]

Many attribute the bad reviews to critics' expectations being too high as Lean had directed three epics in a row before Ryan's Daughter. The preview cut, which ran to over 220 minutes, was criticised for its length and poor pacing; Lean felt obliged to remove up to 17 minutes of footage before the film's wide release, and the missing footage has not been restored or located. Lean took these criticisms very personally, and claimed at the time that he would never make another film.[citation needed](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 and was one of the most successful films of 1970 in Britain, where it ran at a West End theatre 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. An Irish commentator has since described them in 2008 as ".. the local herd-like and libidinous populace who lack gainful employment to keep them occupied."[11] Some 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, but approval of the project had started years before the Troubles. The depiction of the mob stripping and cutting the hair off Rosy, while gratuitously holding and punching her husband 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.

Since the film's release on DVD, Ryan's Daughter has been reconsidered by many critics, now claimed by many to be an overlooked masterpiece, countering many of the criticisms such as its alleged "excessive scale". Other elements, like John Mills' caricature of 'the village idiot' (an Oscar-winning performance) have withstood the test of time less well.[12] 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 characterised by a slower pace, more expansive and allegorical directing, with less dialogue than in previous films, though the film builds tension, albeit slowly.


Academy Awards[edit]

Also Nominated for[13]


  1. ^ a b Hall, S. and Neale, S. Epics, spectacles, and blockbusters: a Hollywood history (p. 181). Wayne State University Press, Detroit, Michigan; 2010. ISBN 978-0-8143-3008-1. Retrieved 25 March 2011.
  2. ^ MGM Posts Profit of , Milion, Best Gain in 25 Years: MGM PROFIT Delugach, Al. Los Angeles Times (1923–Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 3 November 1971: e11.
  3. ^ a b "Ryan's Daughter, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 9 January 2012. 
  4. ^ Variety film review; 11 November 1970, page 15.
  5. ^ The Irish Filmography 1896–1996; Red Mountain Press; 1996. Page 180.
  6. ^ Shooting the storm sequence through a Clearview screen http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51M9EPHPPWL._SS500_.jpg
  7. ^ Sound on Film Interview Series: Ryan's Daughter http://davidlean.com/fun/fun/audioclips.html
  8. ^ [1] Life Magazine, 20 August 1971.
  9. ^ The Dame in the Kimono, Jerold L. Simmons and Leonard L. Jeff, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1990.
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (20 December 1970). "Ryan's Daughter". rogerebert.suntimes.com. 
  11. ^ Brereton, Dr. P., RELIGION AND IRISH CINEMA: A CASE STUDY Irish Quarterly Review, Autumn 2008 pp. 321–332.
  12. ^ McFarlane, Brian. "Mills, Sir John (1908–2005)". 
  13. ^ "The 43rd Academy Awards (1971) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 27 August 2011. 

External links[edit]

Constantine Santas, The Epics of David Lean, Scarecrow Press, 2011.

Further reading[edit]

  • Michael Tanner (2012). Troubled Epic – On Location with Ryan's Daughter. Cork: The Collins Press. ISBN 978-1-84889-1456. 

The Epicss of David Lean, by Constantine Santas. Scarecrow Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-8108-8210—2