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A curate's egg on an epic scale
on 12 December 2007
Another curate's egg from Lean, Ryan's Daughter is a small film told on an epic scale that threatens to dwarf the story but is redeemed by one of Robert Mitchum's greatest ever performances, bravely cast against type as the gentle Irish schoolteacher who becomes the village joke when his young wife takes up with a shell-shocked British officer. Ignored at the time for the showier attractions of Mills' village idiot (a role Norman Wisdom desperately wanted), it's a remarkably intelligent and subtly observed character study that holds far more appeal than Sarah Miles' title role. As always, Lean reserves the real talent (Mills, Trevor Howard, Leo McKern) for the sidelines and comes up with one of his blandest leads in the shape of Peter O'Toole lookalike and future recluse Christopher Jones (dubbed here by Julian Holloway) while the force of history is reduced to background for a simple love story.
Maurice Jarre's score is something of a liability, but overall this is still the best of the director's post-Lawrence films and certainly not fully deserving of the critical slating that led to his 17-year absence from the screen. There is still a very real sense of the cinematic, with both colour and the widescreen ratio exploited to the full, something the increasingly TV-conscious director refused to even attempt with the surprisingly poor A Passage to India.
Although much impact is lost in the step down from 70mm to TV screen - particularly during the vivid storm sequence - the widescreen DVD makes it seem like a different and much better film if you've only ever seen it panned-and-scanned before. With some excellent extras, it's a fine presentation.