The Secret of Roan Inish
A Millennial Lens
March 13, 2021
In celebration of Saint Patrick's Day, I opened a Guinness and watched "The Secret of Roan Inish." I had never heard of this film before my colleague recommended it to me.
"The Secret of Roan Inish" is a 1994 American/Irish independent film written, directed and edited by John Sayles. It is based on the 1959 novel "The Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry" by author Rosalie K. Fry. It is focused on the Irish and Orcadian folklores of selkies, seals that can shed their skins to become human.
The story takes place in Ireland as we follow Fiona Coneelly. After her mother's passing, Fiona's father sends her to live with her grandparents. I feared that the film would continue in this dark and depressing tone, but was pleasantly surprised at the uplifting tone of the remainder of the film. Fiona goes on small adventures with her grandfather and cousin around the village and investigates her family's ancestral home, the isle of Roan Inish.
Fiona learns from her grandparents and locals about her family history. She's told of the mythical half seal half human she may be related to, and a missing brother, whose crib was swept away by the sea years before.
This film reminded me of many other young adventure stories like "Bridge to Terabithia" with its strong female protagonist and subdued magic. This film is very respectful of the children's intelligence and capability. Fiona's curiosity about her family's history and mythology is infectious and the filmmakers make good use of flashbacks and narrations. When the grandfather or a grizzled local tells a story, it feels like your own grandfather telling a tale about generations past.
Speaking of performances, the casting in the film is excellent and believable. This film breaks both tenets of film: don't work with animals and don't work with kids. That said, the children and animals give a fair performance. Fiona is a believable little girl investigating and working on the island. The seals and sea gulls do their part and aren't so choreographed that it feels unreal, as is common with many children's films.
I'm really surprised the cast didn't end up in more films. Jeni Courtney, who played Fiona has only two other films to her name, and the rest of the cast isn't much different. In fact, the tertiary cast has considerably more star-power in comparison.
If you're looking for a story with an Irish cast and a little bit of magic, this is the film for you. Children of all ages may want to take a larger interest in their family history as a result of watching this cute little film.