Scott Glenn plays a strong, silent and lonely Irish widower in this sincere and atmospheric love story making use of Celtic folklore about selchies, seals who transform into people. Yes, this is the story of a man who falls in love with a woman who’s really a seal, and leave it to Hallmark Hall of Fame to pull it off. Sure, it can be a bit languorous at times, and in terms of overall quality, “The Seventh Stream” falls somewhere in the middle of the pack among the previous 210 Hallmark Hall of Fame productions, but that still places it in the upper echelons of telepics.
Glenn is particularly strong in this role of weathered fisherman Owen Quinn, and he’s supported by some able Irish and British thesps. Quinn lost his wife five years earlier and has never recovered. His emotional stoniness matches the stony landscape of this Irish village –captured with a nice mix of quaintness and coldness by d.p. Seamus Deasy. But Quinn begins to perk up when he encounters the beautiful woman (Saffron Burrows) who suddenly appears in town with the ne’er-do-well Dunhill (John Lynch), who suddenly begins to catch fish by the barrel.
Quinn has to come to terms with what we already know from an opening sequence — that the woman, whom he names Mairead (Gaelic for pearl), is a seal whose skin Dunhill has stolen. Now she’s bound to the rascal, and when he mistreats her, Quinn comes to her rescue and earns her devotion. What we learn along with Quinn is that if she doesn’t get her skin back by the next Seventh Stream (in six months), she’ll never be able to return to the sea.
The other players in the story include Quinn’s best friend and fellow fisherman Willy (a very charming turn by Eamon Morrissey), Dunhill’s blind father and the local expert in all things mythic (Joseph Kelly) and the widow Helen Gourdon (the excellent Fiona Shaw), who’s been in love with Quinn forever and has to deal with seeing him fall for a newcomer.
Writer-director John Gray provides some very convincing dialogue, smartly on the concise side, and what carries the pic is the very realistic depiction of a village where life is hard. The performances are as restrained as the writing, and together they’re effectively engaging. “The Seventh Stream” is less magical than John Sayles’ “The Secret of Roan Inish,” which also covered selchie territory, and it gets overloaded with predictable plot twists toward the end, but this is a nice romance for the animal lover in all of us.