20-year-old Rosy (Sarah Miles) lives the orderly, if dull, life of a schoolteacher’s wife and publican’s daughter in the tiny (fictional) village of Kirrary, Western Ireland, in 1916.
Though her husband is gentle and kind, and life is generally pleasant, Rosy often wonders secretly if there isn’t more to life than this, somehow, somewhere.
Major Randolph Doryan (Christopher Jones) arrives in Kirrary to command the nearby British army garrison. He is young and handsome, and – almost before Rosy has time to realise the importance of what she is doing – she falls head over heels for him, and he for her.
That’s the strength of love. Nothing else seems to matter. Love is more powerful than loyalty or a sense of justice and stronger than the ties of written vows and of the high esteem of a whole community.
The love that Rosy feels for Major Doryan makes many others unhappy. Like her husband, Charles Shaughnessy (Robert Mitchum), who, in his turn, loves Rosy deeply. And like Michael, the village idiot (John Mills) who has always idolised Rosy. And like Ryan, Rosy’s father (Leo McKern), who must endure the insults of the whole village when they discover Rosy’s affair.
Of course, the fact that Rosy’s lover is on the “wrong side” during the Irish troubles of 1916, coupled with all that opposition, means her great dream of romance is bound to die.
But their love affair is blissfully happy, if only for a while.
Against wonderful settings of foam-topped seas, wind-swept cliffs, and lonely beaches, the lovers thrive. Secret meetings by the stark tower, in early summer forests and in secret beach caves. Moonlight embraces and daytime rides on their horses . . .
The love of Ryan’s daughter and the Major is as strong and timeless as nature itself.
So when they each discover in their different ways that nothing – not even love – lasts forever, their jolt back to reality is painfully hard.
Ryan’s Daughter was filmed entirely on location on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland. Two hundred workmen laboured for weeks to build the fictitious village of Kirrary, constructing 40 authentic full-scale structures of rough-hewn granite, including cottages, a grocery shop, a schoolhouse, a church, a post office, a police station and a public house – all completely practical inside and out.
The production also made ample use of sandy beaches stretching unbroken for miles at Inch and Banna Strand, sheltered coves at Dunquin and Ballyferriter, and the lovely lakes and woodlands around Killarney.