The Secret of Roan Inish (1994) Poster

User Reviews

Add a Review
65 ReviewsOrdered By: Helpfulness
charming and magical
I saw this listed in TV guide, and watched it because the description made me imagine it would be a simple, charming movie. I didn't realize it was a John Sayles movie until I saw his name on the credits and then I thought it might be something different; I don't associate Sayles with simple family movies. But in fact, this is pretty much the movie I was hoping for, full of Irish charm and blarney, beautiful filmed and full of magic and wonder. One hesitates to call it a children's movie or a family movie because those are generally awful, but it is very much the sort of movie that is perfect to take the family too (although it is unaccountably rated PG). But it's not *just* a kid's movie, it's a movie with magic for anyone, and I would put it in the same category as Alfonso Cuarón's A Little Princess, another movie that treats children not in the Disney aren't-they-cute way but as real thinking individuals. This is a lovely drama featuring a child rather than a kid's movie, but it works on either level.
31 out of 32 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A Wonderful Tale with a Fearless Young Heroine
lostein11 August 2004
I love this movie for a number of reasons. First, its just a beautiful setting. Second, John Sayles does not succumb to Hollywood norms and resort to special effects, rock songs or cheap dramatic plot twists to jazz up what seems to be a simple folk tale. Most of all, I love that all of the characters are allowed their humanity and dignity. Fiona, the 10 year girl who is at the center of the film, follows her curiosity in a brave but realistic way, never spouting wise cracks so common with most American child characters. Imagine being told an old family story by your favorite Uncle or Grandfather while sitting around a living room late at night, with only the low light provided by the glow of a fire or one old lamp so nothing distracts your imagination's journey. That is what this film is like...
16 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Charming and full of wonder
Captain Ed24 July 2002
The Secret of Roan Inish is a departure for John Sayles, in that his normal cynicism and mildly jaundiced eye is replaced by the completely credulous child's view, and his film is all the more charming because of it. In essence, this is a children's movie, and only through Sayles' brilliance are we adults allowed in.

Roan Inish is a deserted island off the coast of Donegal, where Fiona's mother died and her baby brother was lost at sea. Her father has moved to the city but Fiona is sent back to live with her grandparents for her health. Her grandparents live on the coast opposite Roan Inish, having moved off the island at the same time. In fact, the Conneelys have a very special bond with Roan Inish, as Fiona starts to discover as she talks with the local townfolk, especially to a dark and brooding relative named Tadhg. Tadhg tells her about the selkie -- a shapeshifter of Irish lore who is half-seal and half-human -- and why Roan Inish is so important to the family. From that, Fiona must unravel the mystery of what happened to her baby brother.

I don't want to spoil any of the story, so rather than recount any more of the plot, I'll just tell you that all the performances are wonderful. Mick Lally as the grandfather especially shines, as does Eileen Colgan as the grandmother. Jeni Courtney is terrific as young Fiona and Richard Sheridan as Eamonn, her young cousin, is very good too. In fact, I couldn't pick out any bad performances at all.

The Secret of Roan Inish features some beautiful Irish music, both instrumental and Irish-language, and of course features lush cinematography of the Donegal area and coast. Beautifully shot, wonderfully written and performed, and masterfully directed, The Secret of Roan Inish will delight everyone in the family. Don't hesitate to buy or rent this one.
24 out of 25 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
The most mystical movie I've ever seen!
Shayde930 November 2001
Some people would label this a children's movie...and yet, it has all the mystery and beauty that accompanies films for adults who love poetry and traditional storytelling and classic literature. Watch this film, and you'll get a good idea of Irish tradition and life and their constant belief in legend and lore, which has made them into the wonderful and strong race that they are today. There is a deep sense of family...a truly strong family who has clearly had its ups and downs and yet has come out even stronger than before. A family that has been through generations of change, adapted, continues to change and yet still holds onto the traditions and stories along the way. Stories that others might assume are myth and faery tales. And stories that we know aren't anything but the truth woven into a magical tale.

In most Irish tales and legends I've read, there is a quest which keeps the main character(s) pushing forward through all the challenges of life. Fiona's store in this movie is no different. She's a little girl lost at the beginning when we meet her, wandering through the smog of the city to find some way to latch onto her father who is lost and sad with grief over a dead wife and a dead and missing baby boy. Her true quest begins when she is sent to live with her grandparents who still live by the sea. And the quest truly becomes a quest when she learns that her baby brother Jamie has been spotted on Roan Inish, the Island of the Seals where her family originated from.

The music weaves itself around the characters and the story to make it more complete than it would be without it. It is both peaceful and stirring, providing the background for the cultural ear. With the music and the intricate storytelling, one can become truly lost in this story. And truly a part of it.

If I had children, this is one movie I would have them watch over and over again. Like Disney's "Darby O'Gill and the Little People," this is a movie to entertain children of all ages.
30 out of 32 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A good story well told
itsmewendylee14 August 2004
I loved this movie. While this was not a movie specifically made for a young audience (by that I mean, it's not a "kid flick,") this is a great family film. If you give your kids a chance to love an intelligent film, they will. This story is told so vividly, so beautifully, that it held my 6 and 9 year old daughters rapt in spite of the fact that it did not resemble a Disney Channel video.

Anyone who can appreciate folklore tales should love this movie. The cinematography is absolutely breathtaking, the script well written, the actors all wholly believable. I could watch it again and again.
22 out of 23 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A quiet, magical and elegant movie. Timeless
hnmcclain7728 May 2004
I happened to rent "The Secret of Roan Inish," when it was first out on video and it has been one of the best movie finds. This movie tells a captivating story with beautiful scenes of Ireland. It looks so realistic to me for the Irish culture and home-life. This movie is very quiet but never boring. It does not jump up and grab your attention or startle you, it just gradually lays out a very magical yet timeless story. It is a story about love, found and lost, and a little girl who refuses to believe that she has lost a beloved family member. It is told through her magical eyes and the Irish background and characters that cross her path easily come to life. I watch this movie whenever I need to relax and just get away from the everyday craziness of life. It is well worth the time. This movie reminds me of, "The Winter Guest," by Alan Rickman. It has a similar pace and feel to it. If you like this movie, you will probably enjoy, "The Winter Guest," as well.
22 out of 23 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Heartwarming and rich in Irish culture, but not in a sappy way
Andrew Nixon15 March 2003
One of the things I love about the Irish culture is it's rich legends and storytelling. This story follows Fiona (Jeni Courtney) who has returned from the city with her father to live with her grandparents. They had previously lived on the island of Roan Inish, but are now living on the mainland. The director, John Sayles, bring us a version of the legend of the selkie, a creature that is half seal-half human. I found this movie to be very heartwarming and rich in Irish culture, but not in a sappy way. Jeni Courtney turns in an excellent and completely believable performance as Fiona who learns about the legend of the selkie and uses it to find her little brother Jimmy who had disappeared at sea at an infant. The Irish landscape and sea are gorgeously filmed and it's as if you are there in Ireland learning about the legends yourself through the eyes of Fiona. '

***1/2 (out of 4)
18 out of 19 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A lovely magical tale in 1940's Ireland
mlouns10 October 2005
The film examines a young Irish girl, Fiona Coneely, and her search for her baby brother, Jamie, in the late 1940's. Jamie disappeared a few years earlier, and hints begin to emerge that he may have been carried off by the many seals that haunt the island where he lived.

Fiona is portrayed quite well. Although she looks frail physically, she nevertheless conveys a deep strength and fearlessness as she uncovers strange elements of her family's past and begins to believe that Jamie may still be alive

The Irish setting is played up very strongly. There are lovely seascapes and good use of Irish music. The faces of the people are very evocative as well, with many rugged, homely appearances that feel very honest and comfortable. The magical elements are portrayed seriously and delicately without getting too corny -- no dancing leprechauns.

The messages of the film are done intelligently, without much dialogue, relying mostly on visuals. One thing I noticed in a second viewing is how much of the time the film shows people working. It opens up in a tough-looking laundromat or factory of some sort, and many of the key scenes are set with the main characters talking while they are busy with the work of their daily lives. There is an important scene where children labor especially hard for something that has a strong influence on the resolution of the story. At no time is there an overt quote about working, but the importance of labor comes through seeing people do it.

"Roan Inish" works well for young children as well. My younger sons were swept into it, although it is quite unlike any film they had seen before. They definitely thought it was unusual, but they seemed to enjoy the characters and situations and had a lot of interested questions about what was going on.
15 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
An Irish Fairy Tale for All
gbheron9 August 2002
You have to suspend belief during "The Secret of Roan Inish" and accept Irish legend as fact. This shouldn't be too difficult for moviegoers weaned on Star Wars and Die Hard. Let's hope so because "The Secret of Roan Inish" is a rare movie, a fairy tale, told from a child?s perspective, but for adults as well as children.

Roan Inish is an island off the coast of western Ireland from which 10-year-old Fiona's family has recently decamped for the mainland because of hard times. Now directly across the water from their beloved island, Fiona's grandparents take her in after her city-living father can no longer care for her. And there are secrets. Unbeknownst to Fiona there is a branch of her family descended from Selkies, beings half seal and half human. Unlike mermaids though, Selkies are either all human or all seal, depending on their mood. And if you can catch a human Selkie, they're yours until they discover where you've hid their seal skin. And with a beautiful female, Fiona's grandfather did just that, married her, raised a family, but alas one day she finds her seal skin and she's off to the sea. This legend segues into a modern mystery and a challenge Fiona must face.

Slow paced, beautifully photographed, well acted and directed, this is a unique gem of a movie.
21 out of 26 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Wonderful Movie
DannyMcL29 December 2004
My father's family left a small island off the Donegal Coast early in the 20th Century and this film gave us a wonderful insight into life on such an island.

The reality of the film really made it for us, the soda bread (or scone bread) as we called it on the table, the turf fires and the whitewashed walls. Even the seal colony is like Inishtrahull Island where our Dad was from.

I recommend this film without hesitation if you have any roots or interest in Ireland.

One blooper we noted in the subtitles. A kid is being teased for speaking Irish at the start (the film clearly shows why the language was so damaged in the early 20th Century and who was to blame).

His fellow pupils are shown in the subtitles as saying "Eject, Eject" when of course they are actually shouting "Eeejit", the word Idiot in an Irish accent!.

One other blooper we noted in the subtitles was a complete misinterpretation of Killybegs, a fishing port in Donegal which was titled something completely different.
6 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews