The Secret of Roan Inish (1994)
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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.
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.
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.
***1/2 (out of 4)
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.
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.
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.