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Film / Ryan's Daughter

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Father Collins: Have you got nothing to do?
Rosy Ryan: Precisely that!
Father Collins: Well, Ms. Precisely, that's a pity! Unemployment is a dangerous occupation!

Ryan's Daughter is a 1970 film directed by David Lean. It's a Setting Update of Madame Bovary. The film starred Sarah Miles, Robert Mitchum, Christopher Jones, Trevor Howard, Leo McKern, and John Mills, who won an Academy Award for his performance as Michael, the village idiot.

The setting is Kirrary, a fictional village in Ireland, 1916. Rosy Ryan is the daughter of a pub owner. One day, she meets and falls for the local schoolmaster, Charles Shaughnessy. The two marry, but not even her marriage satisfies Rosy's high spirits. She meets Major Randolph Doryan, a Shell-Shocked Veteran of the trenches who's arrived to take command of the local base. Rosy falls for Doryan and the two begin a love affair. This causes problems when some Irish revolutionaries arrive in town to acquire a shipment of arms.


This film features examples of:

  • Composite Character: Doryan corresponds to Emma Bovary's lovers, Rodolphe and Leon.
  • Convicted by Public Opinion: Even though Tom Ryan was the one who tipped off the British and got revolutionary Tim O'Leary arrested, the villagers believe that Rosy's affair with Doryan and the proximity of the British army camp to the schoolhouse make her the prime suspect. Dozens of them show up at the schoolhouse, announce that Rosy has been found guilty, and strip off her clothes and cut off her hair as punishment.
  • Death by Adaptation: While both of Emma Bovary's lovers outlive her, Doryan kills himself by blowing himself up with dynamite.
  • Dirty Coward: Ryan himself allows his daughter to be beaten and stripped by the town rather than reveal he's the one who tipped off the British to the Irish gun shipment.
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  • Driven to Suicide: Near the end of the film, Michael shows Major Doryan some boxes of guns, ammunition, and explosives that he salvaged from the shipment that was otherwise confiscated by the British. After impressing on Michael just how dangerous the contents are, causing him to flee, Doryan blows up the explosives - and himself with them.
  • Just Following Orders: A British soldier gives this justification for his actions in the Easter Rising. Interestingly, used in a sympathetic fashion: the soldier's clearly shaken by the thought of killing civilians, and the Irish characters don't challenge him on this.
  • Noodle Incident: Doryan won a Victoria Cross, but we're never told how he earned it. The hints we do get (Doryan dismissing his lieutenant's praise, flashbacks to Doryan cowering in terror in the trenches) indicate that he was actually an Accidental Hero.
  • Oscar Bait: Like most of David Lean's films. However, although Ryan's Daughter did get Oscar Nominations, and a win for John Mills, it was nowhere near as popular or acclaimed as his previous efforts were. In fact, it was so negatively received that David Lean didn't make another film until A Passage to India.
  • Same Language Dub: Christopher Jones was dubbed by Julian Holloway due to David Lean's dissatisfaction with his performance. Jones didn't find out until he saw the finished film.
  • Shameful Strip: Rosie is stripped of her clothes by the mob at the end of the film.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Major Randolph Doryan has been hollowed out by his trench experiences in World War I. He has a Thousand-Yard Stare in many of his scenes before he meets Rosy, he seldom speaks more than one sentence at a time, and he has recurring flashbacks that cause him to collapse in anguish until someone brings him back to reality.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Rosy and Charles survive the film, whereas Emma and Charles Bovary do not survive the novel.
  • The Speechless: Michael, the village idiot, is incapable of speech, although he understands more than most of the villagers realise.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: The villagers go after Rosy believing she told Doryan about the Revolutionaries' plan to acquire the shipment.


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