The Scoop: 1994 PG, directed by John Sayles and starring Jeni Courtney, Richard Sheridan, John Lynch, Mick Lally, and Eileen Colgan
Tagline: Between land and sea there is a place where myths are real.
Summary Capsule: A young girl is sent to live with her grandparents in post WWII Ireland, and has to solve a mystery and believe in myths to find her brother.
Eunice’s Rating: Like telling family stories on the porch in autumn just before sunset.
Eunice’s Review: In the ‘90s, one of the movie trends was remakes and adaptations of stories from the early 1900s (The Secret Garden; Fairy Tale: A True Story, etc). And, being in the target demographic, I saw most of them, but somehow I missed The Secret of Roan Inish. To make a long story short, (though I will say it involved the inherent hotness of “fisherman’s” sweaters) someone talked me into giving it a rent a couple years ago.
After wasting away in the industrial air of the city, Fiona’s father decides to send her to live with her grandparents by the sea. After she gets there she hears the legends and stories surrounding her family. The one that captures her attention the most is that her brother Jamie, who was lost at sea when he was a baby, is not only alive, but being raised by the seals on the island her family was evacuated from at the beginning of WWII. But not just any seals, selkies. Mythic creatures who have the ability to change form to look human, which Fiona’s family supposedly has connections to.
Told through the selkie folklore, Inish is a movie about family and hard work and stories and holding onto the old ways when progress would be just as happy to forget all about them. While there is a main storyline, Fiona finding her brother, it’s just as important to the movie to show a specific time and place in history. The fisherfolk being forced to move inland due to economics, the dying out of the Irish language, lost traditions and stories is always in the background.
It’s also a movie about characters. Everyone has a story, the grandparents, the cousin, the black sheep of the family, even the seals, seagulls, and the sea are given personality. It has hint of slice of life at an easy pace, so that while there is a beginning and an end, it only feels like an episode in all these people’s lives.
Thankfully, since the main character is a child, the tone keeps from getting too heavy. Fiona explores the seaside and the island. She enjoys learning about fishing and soaks up the stories, whether it’s about the selkies or how her parents met, like a sponge. Add in the beautiful cinematography and music, and what could have been a depressing movie is instead nostalgic and soothing, sometimes dreamy. Listening to the commentary track, it was a labor of love for Sayles.
It’s a family friendly movie that doesn’t patronize. If you have a thing for movies set in Ireland, the sea, or selkies, this is a must see.
- Based on Rosalie K. Fry’s 1957 novel The Secret of Ron Mor Skerry. The book takes place in Scotland, but the movie was filmed and set in Ireland for “practical reasons.”
- Selkies are similar to swan maiden and tennin myths. They’re mystical seals that can take on human form by shedding their skin, but are unable to return to the sea without it. Usually a man finds a female selkie’s skin and forces her to become his wife, or returns it in exchange for a wish.
- “Roan Inish” is a phonetic spelling. It should be spelled Ron Inis.
- John Lynch (Tadhg) and Susan Lynch (the selkie) are real life brother and sister.
- Why you don’t leave cradle boats unattended on the beach.
- Why did the birds freak out in Bodega Bay? Seals.
- How does Jamie know how to make fire?
Tess: Love of the sea is a sickness, and you two will come to grief for it.
Hugh: What the sea would take, the sea must have.
Tadhg: You’re after something.
Fiona: I am?
Tadhg: It’s plain as day.
Fiona: Will I find it?
Tadhg: I’ve no idea of the future, but I can see the past quite well, and the present… if the weather’s clear.
Tadhg: She’s not easily frightened this one.
Tadhg: For once a selkie finds its skin again, neither chains of steel nor chains of love, can keep her from the sea.
Tadhg: Welcome back, Fiona Coneely. We’ve been waitin’.
Tess: It’s as if he’s caught between earth and water.
Tess: It’s the times darlin’. After a war, people are always ready to cut off the past and go forward. We’re just the ones left behind is all.
Tadhg: Ah, he isn’t lost at all… he’s just with another branch of the family.
Fiona: Have you ever seen him? Have you ever seen Jamie?
Tadhg: Well I may be daft, girl, but I’m not blind.
If You Liked This Movie, Try These:
- The Secret Garden (1993)
- The Seventh Stream (TV movie)
- The Little Princess (1995)