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A nice, albeit formulaic, telling of an Irish legend...
Irish mythology is probably not as well known in the world when compared to Egyptian or Greek mythology, due that most of the rich set of myths were lost after the country's conversion to Christianism; however, while the myths of the ancient Celt religion did not survive the change, many of its equally rich variety of legends and stories has been preserved and still are part of the Irish culture and folklore. Among this legends, are the tales about the existence of the Selkies, legendary creatures able to transform themselves from seal to humans by shedding their seal skins, and who like to visit fishing towns from time to time in order to interact with humans. John Gray's "The Seventh Stream" is a Television movie based on this particular Irish legend, proving that film-making is probably the modern equivalent of the ancient art of storytelling, and that the old myths are still pretty much alive.
Set in Ireland during the early 1900s, the movie is the story of Owen Quinn (Scott Glenn), an aging fisherman who 5 years after the dead of his wife, still can't move on with his life and spends most of his time alone, outside the town's society, mourning his loss. One night, a mysterious woman (Saffron Burrows) appears to him claiming to be a Selkie, and asks him to help her to recover her skin, which has been stolen by a local fisherman. Owen doesn't believe this at first, but when fish starts to be scarce and only his former apprentice Thomas Dunhill (John Lynch) seems unaffected, he starts to believe the woman's story. Helping the mysterious Selkie to find her way home, Owen discovers a new way to see life, and before he knows it, he falls in love with the strange woman. But it is said that romance with this creatures is always doomed.
Written by director John Gray (who is probably better known by his work on the TV series "Ghost Whisperer"), the story is very faithful to the Irish legends, and really offers a good representation of these kind of tales. Basically a romantic tragedy (like most of the Selkies' stories), the film is entirely focused on the character of Owen Quinn, and how his relationship with the Selkie (which he names Mairead) helps him to open his heart again and find a new happiness in his life. True, it's definitely a bit clichéd, but the slow, careful way Gray uses to build up his story (as well as it's interesting setting) give the story a fresh spin. The way the story presents life in a small Irish fishing town during the first decade of the 20th Century is also quite realistic, showing that a good effort in research was done by the writer.
As a director, John Gray opts for a very straight forward approach to his story, keeping true to the plot's essence by following the conventions of the romance melodrama almost to the letter. While this style it's truly fitting to the story (after all, it's a classic way of film-making) and Gray shows a great domain of the medium, it also shows some lack of imagination in the sense that it's very notorious that this is a movie made for Television. Despite this, Gray adds some really good elements to the film, such as the great use he gives to Seamus Deasy's cinematography. A native of Ireland himself, Deasy captures the magic of the Emerald Island in beautiful images that are also quite fitting for the TV screen. However, I think that Gray's best trait is his direction of actors, as in this movie, it is their performances what truly make the movie to stand out among the rest.
Scott Glenn is simply excellent as Owen Quinn, giving the character the necessary emotion and depth required. Many have criticized him for looking wooden or emotionless, but I find him really appropriate, as Quinn is not exactly a character prone to show his emotions. Safforn Burrows plays Mairead, the legendary Selkie who will change Quinn's life. While not really amazing, Burrows is effective and makes a good job. Despite being somewhat overshadowed by other cast members, her performance is truly worthy. The supporting cast is simply amazing, with every actor adding a lot of presence to the characters. Among them there are great performances by Fiona Shaw, John Lynch and Joseph Kelly; but the one who shines the most is definitely Eamon Morrissey as Owen's extroverted friend Willy. The perfect portrait of Irish's attitude, Morrissey steals every scene he is in with his natural charm.
"The Seventh Stream" has very good elements going for it, like really good acting, superb photography and Ernest Troost's wonderful score (better than the average for a TV film); however, the faithful way it follows the conventions of Television movies truly diminishes its quality. While Gray gives a good use to his low budget, he can't escape of the resource of episodic cliffhangers for commercial breaks, as this classic narrative devise is used in a very exaggerated and obvious way. As an experienced director of TV movies (with the excellent films "The Day Lincoln Was Shot" in his resumé), it's surprising that he left this flaw to be so notorious and damaging, although to his credit, it's truly the only thing that diminishes the value of his movie. I found "The Seventh Stream" to be a nice and good effort, but somehow I was expecting something more from Gray and Hallmark productions.
Overall "The Seventh Stream" is a very good story of romance with a beautiful Irish setting despite its problems. The really great performances by the cast and the wonderful cinematography really make up for the story's clichés (although after all, isn't that what we love about tragedies?) and the typical way the movie was done. It's not exactly a classic of the genre, but it's a nice and entertaining way to spend a rainy evening. 7/10
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