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249 of 273 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars splendid old-fashioned movie experience
Given his notorious reputation for cranking out the most politically-correct of films, it's a really pleasant surprise to watch this profoundly conservative effort by John Sayles. Based on a 1959 novel by Rosalie Fry, Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry, Sayles' Roan Inish tells the story of a young girl, Fiona, who when her mother dies is sent to live with her grandparents on...
Published on September 30, 2002 by Orrin C. Judd

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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Student Review
When 7 yeasr old Fiona Coneely's mother dies, the young girl moves into the city with her father, then to the Irishirsh countryside to live with her grandparents. Through a series of stories her grandfather tells, we learn that the entire Coneely clan had, until just recently, lived on Roan Inish, a small isle off the Irish coast. When Fiona's mother died, all the young...
Published on June 17, 2011 by TimeLord


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249 of 273 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars splendid old-fashioned movie experience, September 30, 2002
This review is from: The Secret of Roan Inish (DVD)
Given his notorious reputation for cranking out the most politically-correct of films, it's a really pleasant surprise to watch this profoundly conservative effort by John Sayles. Based on a 1959 novel by Rosalie Fry, Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry, Sayles' Roan Inish tells the story of a young girl, Fiona, who when her mother dies is sent to live with her grandparents on the Irish coast in the years immediately after WWII. The family had long lived on the island of Roan Inish, in the company of seals, but they were relocated to Donegal during the war and now may have to move again, further inland. There's an ineffable sadness about the old couple, the grandfather especially misses the island and mourns the lost way of life they enjoyed; the grandmother misses Fiona's brother, Jamie, who was swept out to sea in a wooden cradle when they were moving off of Roan Inish. Fiona though is convinced that her baby brother still lives and, indeed, her cousin Eamon tells her that he's been sighted sailing around in his cradle boat.
Fiona's grandfather and cousins are only too happy to tell her tales about the family and Roan Inish, maintaining their strong ties to the island at least in memory and recitation. Finally, one cousin, Tadhg--a "dark one" (dark of hair and eye like her brother was)--tells the story of how an ancestor captured a selkie, a seal-woman. The selkies are said to swim ashore in seal form and then strip off their skins to bask in the sun as beautiful women, but if you can grab their skin before they slip away they are bound to you. The family then is descended from this selkie, though one of her children eventually told her where to find the skin and she immediately swam off.
Fiona takes to visiting the island and spots Jamie herself, running naked and picking flowers, but he runs away and sails off in his cradle. She then convinces Eamon that the seals are keeping Jamie to make the family move back to the island, so the two set about secretly restoring the dilapidated huts and gardens, all the while trying to figure out how to coax the grandparents back to Roan Inish.
The film is beautifully shot, by Haskell Wexler, with a lilting Celtic soundtrack, and the cast, apparently professional but largely unknown here in the States, plays it straight down the line, as drama not fantasy. Mr. Sayles never treats the audience as if we need convincing, nor stoops to treat the material ironically. It is simply assumed that we will abandon reason and suspend disbelief, and we're quite happy to do so. The whole is infused with a sentimental longing for tradition, a sense that life has a proper order and we our proper places in that order, and a disdain for change that is positively reactionary and very refreshing. The viewer has no doubt that it is necessary for the Coneelly family, the descendants of the selkie, to live on Roan Inish and that the world is a better place with this balance restored. It's all as anti-modern as can be and makes for a splendid old-fashioned movie experience, for the whole family or just for the adults.
GRADE: A+
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87 of 97 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Emerald Isles, October 25, 2001
A beautiful story, that captures the selkie legend with a touch of innocence.

John Sayles adapted Rosalie Fry's 1959 novel: Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry (That now sells for three to five hundred dollars!) Haskell Wexler captured the rolling emerald pastureland, clusters of white thatched cottages and the mist rolling in from the sea on film so delightfully, you will find yourself longing to visit Ireland.

Green is the color of life, hope and joy. In this delightful story, Fiona is full of life, hopes to find her brother and experiences the joy of helping her family in their time of need.

Fiona (Jeni Courtney) loses her mother and younger brother and is sent to live with her grandparents on the Irish Coast. From the cottage she sees Roan Inish, an island where her family once lived. Filled with curiosity, she seeks every opportunity to explore the tiny island. Tales of seals that can change out of their skin and take on a perfect human form makes her even more curious. She feels a magical connection with one of the seals she sees while on a fishing boat.

The selkie in this story is a beautiful woman who marries a mortal, yet pines for the sea. She is trapped on land without her seal skin, which her husband has hidden. Ledgend has it that one of her children told her where the skin was hidden and she immediately put it on and returned to the sea, leaving her family, home and husband behind forever.

Fiona takes all the stories and finds she is experiencing some of the magic of the legend in her own trips to the Island of Roan Inish. Like all children, she still believes in magic and even though her grandparents don't believe she has seen her brother, Fiona has
faith that she has not seen a ghost.

A lovely story to teach children kindness to animals and that no matter what happens in life, someone is always looking out for them.

This is a rare treat!

~The Rebecca Review
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting, January 20, 2006
By 
Diego Banducci (San Francisco, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Secret of Roan Inish (DVD)
I liked John Sayles' "Lone Star" so much that I systematically began working my way through his other films. "The Secret of Roan Inish" stopped me dead in my tracks. A film like no other, haunting in its beauty, it has stayed with me ever since. It is a great film, creative and beautiful. Jeni Courtney, the child star is a delight, a refreshing breath of youth and honesty who puts her Hollywood counterparts to shame.
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65 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fairy Tale for All Ages, August 1, 2000
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John Sayles hit one out of the park with his The Secret of Roan Inish. This one is clearly for the child in all of us, whether we're 8, 18, or 80. This magical story reunites a family on a small Irish island with little more than a young girl's dream and some hard work by she and her cousin.
The lure of Ireland is hardly new, but the beauty of this sometimes difficult land shines through the foggy mist that permeates the film. It is the financial hardships the Irish have often faced that create the backdrop for this movie. Some may say Sayles has romanticized penury, when in reality he has simply shown what is most important to the human spirit - that hard work can sometimes make dreams come true, and that faith and magic are as important as tangible things. The delightful acting and strong characterizations bring the moody and mystical Irish coast to life.
Whether you are a fan of the selkie myth, Ireland, or are looking for a film that you, your children, and your parents can watch together, I heartily recommend this one.
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
Publisher, All About Romance
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally! A really good Irish myth and legend brought to life, July 25, 2003
By 
Irish Lassie (Long Island, NY) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Secret of Roan Inish (DVD)
The Secret of Roan Inish is an awesome movie for that movie watcher who loves a good story, without having to watch somebody's guts being blown out or high speed car chases. This movie is not for the perverbial "shoot 'em up" type of fan. This story is truely brought to life by the wonderful actors and actresses in it. Jeni Courtney is quite convincing as the lead role of Fiona, the newly motherless girl who goes to live with her grandparents (Mick Lally and Eileen Colgan)and becomes tangled up with a mystery when she finds out from her cousin Eammon (Richard Sheridan) that Jamie, her long lost brother who was said to have drowned years ago, has actually been seen floating about with seals! The story part told by her grandfatherss cousin, Tadgh is quite good. This is a wonderfully well paced movie, and a great film for people of all ages. Buy or rent today!
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One you could never forget., September 21, 2004
This review is from: The Secret of Roan Inish (DVD)
I first saw this film when I was about ten years old. I'm eighteen now, and ever since then I could not get it out of my mind. I've tried telling all of my friends over the years that there's this wonderfuly amazing movie out there, though none of them seem to know of it. I will continue trying to spread the word about such a terrific movie, and I long to see this film again.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent fairy tale for the whole family, January 17, 2001
By 
schleppenheimer (Pennsylvania USA) - See all my reviews
I just rented this movie recently, with the knowledge in the back of my mind that when it was released, it was given good reviews by the critics (unusual in itself!). At first I watched it with my nine year old daughter, and we were totally enthralled by the mysterious tale that was carefully woven in front of our eyes. Then we fell in love with what we were watching, and encouraged my husband and teenage son to watch with us the next night. Even they loved it -- and it's hard to get a teenage boy to enjoy something like this. A completely extraordinary movie that is uplifting, interesting, and totally unlike anything we have seen before.
In the words of another person who reviewed this video -- "I only buy videos if they are exceptional, and this one is exceptional." Not only am I buying it for myself, but I'm buying it as a gift as well!
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful Irish myth and magic., December 12, 2004
This review is from: The Secret of Roan Inish (DVD)
Set on the west coast of Ireland, overlooking the small island of Roan Inish, this John Sayles-directed film idealizes a family's connections to the sea and celebrates their sea-faring history and culture in the face of twentieth century "progress." Fiona, about ten, is sent to live with her grandparents there after her mother dies and her father is too grief-stricken to care for her. Some years earlier, in the same community, Fiona's baby brother Jamie had floated out to sea in his cradle, and her father and grandfather, unable to row fast enough to rescue him, had suffered that loss, too.

Fiona's participation in the seafaring life of her grandparents and cousin Eamon, exposes her to the legends and stories which have formed the backbone of her family culture. A relative tells her about "the dark ones," members of her family thought to be descended from a selkie. This mermaid-like creature, part-human and part seal, is said to have borne several children by one of Fiona's ancestors before finding the hidden sealskin from which she had originally emerged. Putting on her old skin, she had obeyed the call of the sea, returning to her oceanic life and leaving her family behind.

Fiona, believing that her brother Jamie is living with the seals on Roan Inish, explores the island with her cousin Eamon, searching for her roots and Jamie. Jeni Courtney as Fiona will capture your heart. A beautiful child with a sense of innocence, Courtney has an instinctive sense of how to play her role without being cute, respecting the myths she is portraying and throwing herself wholeheartedly into her role. Mick Lally and Eileen Colgan, as the grandparents, inextricably tied the island and its way of life, give a sense of gravitas to supernatural events.

The cinematography (Haskell Wexler) is stunning--both interior cottage scenes and exterior scenes of the island, sea, fog, seals, and storms. Almost any shot could be freeze-framed as a portrait or landscape, its composition preserving the emotion and the meaning. The music, primarily flute, fiddle, and bodhran drum, perfectly captures the changing moods and enhances the unearthly mythology. With less gifted actors and direction, the plot of this film would be treacly fare, but Sayles, who also wrote the screenplay and did the editing, has created a brilliant film, memorializing a way of life and appealing to adults as well as younger audiences. Mary Whipple
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional, intelligent family movie, December 1, 2000
By 
I. Westray (Minneapolis, MN USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Secret of Roan Inish (DVD)
The Secret of Roan Inish is the perfect family movie. It's wonderfully entertaining, it's beautiful to look at, and it has magic and fun and mystery to it.
What makes this one most special, though is that it respects the intelligence of children. The girl this movie revolves around is a complete, thinking, emotional person. She unravels the "secret" mainly because she's determined and capable and thoughtful. The movie doesn't talk down to her *or* to kids in its audience. If you think about it, that's pretty rare in a movie. My son said it "talked" to him "like people, not like a kid."
If you have a little girl, please, buy her this movie. Roan Inish isn't particularly aimed at girls, or even at children -- it'll win almost anyone over. But it's incredible to see movie built around a little girl this way, with respect.
I would also recommend this movie to anyone who's enjoyed Local Hero. They're quite different films, but you'll understand the connection.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Living, Loving, Sorrowing, Telling Stories, September 18, 2002
By 
Lawrence E. Wilson (Mayfield, East Sussex, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
No battles, no rebellious teenagers, no sex, no violence...Just people: living, loving, sorrowing, telling stories. And oh, how those stories resonate through time...
I saw this when it first came out and loved it. Recently bought the video and watched it again. Still beautiful, achingly so, that rich and quiet Irish kind of beauty which strikes so deep into the soul. A deceptively simple tale---a young girl trying to solve the mystery of the disappearance of her baby brother during the evacuation of her ancestral island---made resonant by the power of the storyteller's voice. The contrast between the poverty of possessions and the richness of family relationships is striking, and it is one of the most beautifully-filmed movies I know, with several truly spine-shivery, eerie moments, mostly in the sepia-tinted flashbacks. The soundtrack is equally beautiful, with authentic Irish airs and lullabies woven in and out to strengthen and support the storyline.
The little girl who plays Fiona does so with quiet grace, beauty, and a maturity of focus unusual in a child actor. The actor who plays her cousin Eamonn is less successful, I think, sounding rather self-conscious much of the time. The actors playing her grandparents are absolutely wonderful---and how often do we get to see older characters as the strong backbone of a movie, and not played for laughs or milked for pathos? Two other standouts: the slim, dark, feral, cousin-serval-times-removed, who provides Fiona with vital clues by relating an age-old family story, and the pre-Raphaelite-looking woman who plays Nuala, the selkie woman in the misty ancestral past, dark, wild-eyed, strange and beautiful.
I think that I love this film because of the whole Celtic edge-of-otherness kind of thing, but I cannot imagine most toddlers sitting through this one. But for older children, and for family viewing, this is one I'd recommend strongly.
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The Secret of Roan Inish
The Secret of Roan Inish by John Sayles (DVD - 2000)
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