Ryan’s Daughter (1970): David Lean’s Oscar Winning Historic Romance, Starring Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, and John Mills in Oscar Winning Performance

“Ryan’s Daughter,” David Lean’s follow-up to “Doctor Zhivago,” is arguably his weakest film, a lushly photographed but rambling and pointless Irish romantic tale, set in 1916 during WWI.

Grade: C (* 1/2* out of *****)

The saga, written by noted playwright Robert Bolt, centers on the triangle of a school teacher, Charles Shaughnessy (aging Robert Mitchum, cast against type miscast), his adulterous tramp of a wife Rosy (Sarah Miles), and a young, handsome shell-shocked British officer (Christopher Jones).

The daughter of a saloonkeeper, Rosy is stuck in a sexually and emotionally barren marriage to Charles. She consults with the region’s parish (Lean’s regular Trevor Howard) and when her erotic desire proves unbearable, she throws herself into a wild affair, making love mostly outdoors, thus offering the gorgeously shaped Miles an opportunity to strip her clothes.

But, alas, the political context of IRA and German spies is superfluous and barely serves as background to the love story and the punishment that follows, when the cuckolded husband suspects that it was his wife who informed the Brits about the Irish plot.

In the film’s preposterous climax, the villagers invade Charles’ house, strip Rosy (Miles naked again) and shave her head, leading to a tragic ending of the British officer, who blows himself up with a grenade.

The melodrama concludes senselessly and incredibly, when the couple, still together after all the shenanigans, decides to start a new chapter of their lives in Dublin.

At the time, most critics were extremely harsh, dismissing “Ryan’s Daughter as silly, pale recycling of Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary.” It’s believed that the artistic and commercial failure of the film froze maestro Lean, who didn’t make another film for another 14 yearsuntil “A Passage to India” in 1984, which became his swan song.


Charles Shaughnessy (Robert Mitchum)
Rosy Ryan (Sarah Miles)
Father Collins (Trevor Howard)
Randolph Doryan (Christopher Jones)
Michael (John Mills)
Tom Ryan (Leo McKern)
Tim O’Leary (Barry Foster)
McCardle (Archie O’Sullivan)
Mrs. McCardle (Marie Kean)
Moureen (Evin Crowley)

: 4

Actress: Sarah Miles
Supporting Actor: John Mills
Cinematography: Freddie Young
Sound: Gordon K. McCallum and John Bramall

Oscar Awards: 2

Supporting Actor

Oscar Context

In 1970, “Patton” competed for the Best Picture Oscar with the schlock disaster flick “Airport,” which inexplicably received 10 nominations, but won only one (Supporting Actress to veteran Helen Hayes); “Five Easy Pieces,” which was nominated for 4, but didn’t win any Oscar; the blockbuster “Love Story,” which won one out of its six nominations; and “M-A-S-H,” the first Robert Altman to be nominated for the top award.

The three categories in which “Patton” lost were Cinematography, which went to Freddie Young for the David Lean romantic epic, “Ryan’s Daughter;” Score, which honored Francis Lai for “Love Story,” and Special Visual Effects, which was given to the war movie, “Tora! Tora! Tora!”

Sarah Miles, who was then married to playwright and screenwriter Robert Bolt, lost out to another Brit, Glenda Jackson in “Women in Love.”