×

This Is the Sea

This "Romeo and Juliet" story set in Northern Ireland is a winner, with well-known thesps Richard Harris, Gabriel Byrne and John Lynch providing some marquee value, but newcomers Samantha Morton and Ross McDade carrying the day. Writer-director Mary McGuckian has a firm sense of place and time (Northern Ireland after the 1994 cease-fire) but concentrates on individual characters rather than converting them into walking symbols. With proper handling this could find some arthouse success.

With:
Hazel Stokes ..... Samantha Morton Malachy McAliskey ..... Ross McDade Old Man Jacobs ..... Richard Harris Rohan ..... Gabriel Byrne Padhar McAliskey ..... John Lynch Ma Stokes ..... Dearbhla Molloy Da Stokes ..... Ian McElhinney Jef Stokes ..... Marc O'Shea Ma McAliskey ..... Stella McCusker Cathy ..... Mary McGuckian Inspector Wilson ..... Des McAleer

This “Romeo and Juliet” story set in Northern Ireland is a winner, with well-known thesps Richard Harris, Gabriel Byrne and John Lynch providing some marquee value, but newcomers Samantha Morton and Ross McDade carrying the day. Writer-director Mary McGuckian has a firm sense of place and time (Northern Ireland after the 1994 cease-fire) but concentrates on individual characters rather than converting them into walking symbols. With proper handling this could find some arthouse success.

Hazel (Morton) is newly baptized into a small Protestant sect at film’s start. Subsequently accompanying her quirky neighbor (Harris) to a farm show in nearby Belfast, she meets Malachy (McDade), a Catholic. Budding romance is threatened on both sides. While Malachy’s brother Padhar (Lynch) approves, Padhar’s pal Rohan (Byrne) — a leader in the militant underground — does not. In fact, he’s not only eager to prevent Padhar from walking away from the cause, but he wants Malachy recruited into it. Meanwhile, Hazel’s obsessive brother Jef (Marc O’Shea) spies on her clandestine meetings, reporting back to their uptight mother (Dearbhla Molloy), who decrees Hazel a “whore.” Much trouble ensues before cautiously upbeat ending.

Popular on Variety

Pic works because of strength of material and surprising depth of cast. Film turns on the young romantic leads, and McGuckian scores with the film debuts of Morton and McDade. Byrne and Harris bring the right mixture of humor and creepiness to their performances, making it difficult to be certain just where their characters stand.

There really isn’t a bad performance in the lot. Several in small roles, including Ian McElhinney as Hazel’s quietly supportive father, Stella McCusker as Malachy’s life-affirming mother and Des McAleer as a cynically observant member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, are standouts. Director McGuckian has a nice turn in the role of Padhar’s girlfriend.

One drawback for U.S. release will be the music. Though the song score utilizes music well known to Irish audiences, scenes of the Waterboys and Brian Kennedy in performance slow down the action, and may not resonate with Stateside viewers. (The film’s title comes from the title song of the Waterboys’ 1985 album.)

McGuckian easily handles shifts of mood from comic to tragic, deftly avoiding situations that have turned into cliches from overuse. Her background includes work with filmmaker Jim Sheridan, whom she repays with a small role as a station keeper in the film. Tech credits are crisp, and location work in Belfast offers viewers a different take on a cityscape usually depicted as war-torn rubble.

This Is the Sea

(IRISH)

Production: A First Look Pictures/Overseas Film Group presentation of a Pembridge production. Produced by Michael Garland. Executive producer, Cameron McCracken. Co-producer, Judy Counihan. Directed, written by Mary McGuckian.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor, Panavision), Des Whelan; editor, Kant Pan; music, Mike Scott, the Waterboys, Brian Kennedy; production design, Claire Kenny; art direction, David Butterworth; costume design, John Rocha, Odette Rocha; sound (Dolby), Phil Croal; assistant director, Ian Madden, Nick Laws; casting, John and Ros Hubbard. Reviewed at Landmark Theatres Kendall Square Cinemas, Cambridge, Mass., Sept. 15, 1997. (In Boston, London film festivals.) Running time: 104 MIN.

With: Hazel Stokes ..... Samantha Morton Malachy McAliskey ..... Ross McDade Old Man Jacobs ..... Richard Harris Rohan ..... Gabriel Byrne Padhar McAliskey ..... John Lynch Ma Stokes ..... Dearbhla Molloy Da Stokes ..... Ian McElhinney Jef Stokes ..... Marc O'Shea Ma McAliskey ..... Stella McCusker Cathy ..... Mary McGuckian Inspector Wilson ..... Des McAleer

More Film

  • Pamela Tola

    Göteborg: Pamela Tola Proves There is an Audience for Different Stories

    GÖTEBORG, Sweden —  Chosen to close the discussion dedicated to discrimination against elderly people at the Göteborg Film Festival, Pamela Tola’s “Ladies of Steel” fitted right into this year’s focus on feminism and gender at the Swedish event. Which managed to deliver on its 50/50 promise, with 54% of the presented films being directed by [...]

  • Shirley Chen and Jose Angeles appear

    'Beast Beast': Film Review

    Writer-director Danny Madden’s “Beast Beast” clatters to life with organic percussion: a stick rat-a-tatting against an iron fence, a skateboard scraping on concrete, a rifle pinging bullets against a defenseless tin plate. Together, these sounds combine into jazz, despite the discordance of the three teens making such a ruckus. Krista (Shirley Chen), the stick thwacker, [...]

  • Sundance: PBS POV Acquires Kenyan Doc

    Sundance: PBS POV Acquires Kenyan Doc ‘Softie’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    PBS’s documentary arm POV has snapped up U.S. broadcast rights for Kenyan director Sam Soko’s “Softie,” fresh off its world premiere in the World Documentary Cinema competition at Sundance, Variety has learned. The film, which is the first Kenyan-produced movie to premiere at the festival, will air as part of the series’ 33rd season, which kicks [...]

  • Will Smith as Mike Lowrey in

    Box Office: 'Bad Boys for Life' Rules Over 'The Gentlemen'

    STX’s “The Gentlemen” proved no match for Sony’s “Bad Boys for Life,” which again left box office competitors in the dust after collecting $34 million in its sophomore outing. Those ticket sales, pushing the Will Smith and Martin Lawrence-led sequel past the $100 million mark, were easily enough to claim the No. 1 spot for [...]

  • Kajillionaire

    'Kajillionaire': Film Review

    The world is a weird place. Miranda July knows that, but the rest of us sometimes forget. Or maybe we just don’t want to admit how bizarre it is that society more or less agrees that back rubs and hot tubs and flavored chips and McRibs are an appropriate reward for a bazillion years of [...]

  • Stellan Skarsgard

    Göteborg Listens to Stellan according to Skarsgård

    GÖTEBORG, Sweden — Laughs were aplenty at the Stora Theatern, where Göteborg Film Festival artistic director Jonas Holmberg welcomed the recipient of the Nordic Honorary Dragon Award, fresh off his Golden Globe win for HBO’s “Chernobyl”. “It wasn’t planned. I thought that will be my only award this year, that’s why I said yes!” – joked Skarsgård, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content