Set in post-WWII Ireland, The Secret of Roan Inish is the magical story of how a small family, beset by a series of personal tragedies and trying to settle into a new, unfamiliar life, finds their way back to a life of purpose. Does this sound depressing? Believe it or not, it is entirely the opposite. Perhaps independent filmmaker John Sayles’ most lyrical film, it is at times somber, and it certainly contains some heart wrenching moments, yet overall it is a tremendously uplifting tale.
Accompanied by a dazzling soundtrack and breathtaking cinematography by the great Haskell Wexler, the story is entirely driven by the main character Fiona, a young girl recently orphaned by her mother and neglected by her father who goes to live with her grandparents. There she discovers her cousin along with the ancestral family islands from which they all came. Although they were forced to leave the islands fairly recently due to the war, she is so young she doesn’t really remember them.
Despite the fact that a young girl under ten is the lead and in virtually every scene, it’s not particularly a children’s movie. In fact, when I saw it in theaters eons ago, most of the kids in the audience were bored and restless. You won’t be though. Despite it’s languid pacing and low-key action, it has tremendous momentum, a number of surprises and an incredibly moving payoff.
I have been waiting for this film to become available digitally for years. You can finally now find it streaming though Prime or for purchase or rent from Apple or Amazon.