I've Heard the Mermaids Singing

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I've Heard the Mermaids Singing
I've Heard the Mermaids Singing DVD.jpg
DVD cover
Directed by Patricia Rozema
Produced by Patricia Rozema
Don Haig
Alexandra Raffe
Written by Patricia Rozema
Music by Mark Korven
Cinematography Douglas Koch
Edited by Patricia Rozema
Distributed by Miramax Films
Release dates
  • 11 September 1987 (1987-09-11)
Running time
81 mins
Country Canada
Language English

I've Heard the Mermaids Singing is a 1987 theatrical-release feature film, directed by Patricia Rozema. The title is taken from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot.


The film stars Sheila McCarthy as Polly, a worker for a temporary secretarial agency. Polly serves as the narrator for the film, and there are frequent sequences portraying her whimsical fantasies. Polly lives alone, seems to have no friends and enjoys solitary bicycle rides to undertake her hobby of photography. Despite her clumsiness, lack of education, social awkwardness and inclination to take others' statements literally, all of which have resulted in scarce employment opportunities, Polly is placed as a secretary in a private art gallery owned by Gabrielle (Paule Baillargeon).

Ann-Marie MacDonald plays Mary, who is Gabrielle's former young lover, and also a painter. Mary returns after an absence, and she and Gabrielle rekindle their former relationship despite Gabrielle's misgivings that she is too old and Mary too young. Polly, who's fallen a little bit in love with Gabrielle, is inspired to submit some of her own photographs anonymously to the gallery. She is crushed when Gabrielle dismisses her photos out of hand and calls them "simpleminded." Polly temporarily quits the gallery, and goes into a depression. She returns to the gallery, and revives a little when Mary notices one of her photos.

All the while, Mary and Gabrielle have been perpetrating a fraud. Gabrielle has been passing off Mary's work as her own. When Polly finds out, she becomes livid and tosses a cup of tea at Gabrielle. Believing she has done something unforgivable, Polly retreats to her flat in anguish.

Mary and Gabrielle later visit Polly at her flat, and realize that the discarded photographs were by Polly. As the film ends, Gabrielle and Mary look at more of Polly's photographs and in a short fantasy sequence the three are transported together to an idyllic wooded glen, a metaphor for the beautiful world that supposedly plain and unnoticed people like Polly inhabit.

Critical reaction[edit]

Camille Paglia praised the film's "wonderful comedy and realism", commenting of the character Polly, "This girl's kind of aimless, yet plucky. It's the twentysomething problem with self-definition."[1] In 1993, the Toronto International Film Festival ranked it ninth in the Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time, though the film does not appear on the updated 2004 version.[2]

Further reading[edit]

  • M. Alemany-Galway. A Postmodern Cinema: The Voice of the Other in Canadian Film (2002). Scarecrow Press.
  • B. Austin-Smith. "Gender is irrelevant":" I've heard the mermaids singing" as women's cinema. Cross Cultures (2002). Rodopi.
  • Marilyn Fabe. "Feminism and Film Form: Patricia Rozema's I've Heard the Mermaids Singing," in Closely Watched Films: An Introduction to the Art of Narrative Film Technique. (2004). U of California P.
  • Julia Mendenhall. I've Heard the Mermaids Singing. 2014. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press. Queer Film Classic Series, edited by Thomas Waugh and Matthew Hays.


  1. ^ Paglia, Camille. Vamps and Tramps: New Essays. Penguin Books, 1994, p. 500.
  2. ^ "Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time," The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2012, URL accessed 28 April 2013.

External links[edit]