Ryan's Daughter is one of those films that cries out to be seen on the big screen (and the bigger the better). Director David Lean was right criticized for blowing Robert Bolt's tender little love story way out of proportion, foisting an epic filmmaking style on a tale that is too slight to sustain it. This decision certainly damages the film; but at the same time, no one could do "epic" better than Lean, and so the large trappings that he brought to the film have a strength of their own that is almost independent of the movie -- and that strength is best viewed in a theater rather than at home. Still, whatever the venue, audiences can still appreciate the gorgeous work of cinematographer Freddie Young, whose wind-swept vistas and dark, roiling skies create a drama of their own. Lean has used Young to create a work in which nature is as much a character as any person, and Young does not let Lean down. Unfortunately, the other characters are not treated as sensitively by Lean, who also does not devote enough attention to the specifics of the essential love story. As a result, the film is both overlong and overwrought, but insufficiently developed. The cast is a bit of mixed bag. Robert Mitchum is cast against type, but his performance is sluggish and a bit dull. Sarah Miles is good in the title role, but not quite a commanding enough presence as is called for. John Mills takes advantage of the showy role to turn in an Oscar performance, and there's also fine work from Trevor Howard, but Christopher Jones is -- his looks aside -- a big mistake. Ryan's Daughter is tremendously uneven, but its virtues finally offset its sins enough to make it worth watching.
by Craig Butler review