Director: Lisa Mulcahy
Cast: Lorcan Bonner, Brendan Conroy and Lorca Cranitch
Running Time: 98 minutes
Release Date: October 23rd
It has to be said that Irish myths and folklore haven’t had the best of luck when adapted to the big screen. While they are some notable exceptions — the selkie tales of John Sayles’ The Secret of Roan Inish and Tomm Moore’s Song of the Sea as well as Moore’s The Secret of Kells — for most people it would probably be the stereotypical “Oirish” film such as Darby O’Gill and the Little People and The Luck of the Irish that would immediately pop into their heads. Lisa Mulcahy’s The Legend of Longwood attempts to update these folktales, locking her story in the wilderness of the Irish landscape while maintaining the sense of loss and melancholy that is prevalent in many Irish tales, whilst combining with the imagery of Black Knights and peasantry that would be more commonly found in old European stories.
The story itself concerns a modern 12 year old girl Mickey Miller (Lucy Morton), who is uprooted from her life in New York City to the unfamiliar surroundings of West Ireland after her mother received a letter saying that a long lost relative of her father has left them an old mill in her will. Naturally Mickey is upset at having to move, not just because she has to leave her old life behind but mainly because she worries that her father, a sailor who has been missing at sea for the past number of years, won’t be able to find them should he return.
Not long after arriving, she begins to hear voices and starts to have visions of a mysterious black clothed knight on horseback. She soon meets Lady Thyrza Dumonceau (Miriam Margolyes), owner of a large estate who tells her the story of her great, great, great granduncle, a formally kind man who in his grief over the death of his wife turned into a tyrant, causing the locals to kidnap his daughter causing him to transform into the Black Knight, enacting revenge on the locals until he can find his daughter. Mickey decides to solve the mystery once and for all and lift the curse off the village.
Such begins Mickey’s quest, and aside from the exposition scene detailing the origins of the Black Knight, which is told in an interesting use of animation, the film is structured in a way that we see this journey through Mickey’s eyes, discovering new facets alongside her, allowing us to engage with the mystery. It is a standard storytelling device but it is utilised to good effect here and is told in such a way that should maintain the interest of younger viewers.
Of course the quest would mean nothing if there weren’t any emotional reasons behind it and here Mulcahy uses both the story of the Black Night and Mickey’s determination to solve it has means to explore the reactions we have when it comes to how we deal with grief. Mickey’s reluctance to accept her fathers fate, is contrasted by the Black Knight’s reaction to turn his back on the world and the people around him, but they are linked together by the desire they share to be with their loved ones again. That the curse of the Black Knight will only be lifted by him finding out the truth of his daughter, like wise Mickey must come to terms with the loss of her father, their acceptations of this fact is the key to the lifting of the dark clouds that surround them both literal and metaphorically.
While they are good aspects, the Irish countryside is used to good effect, showing its beauty without becoming a tourist advertisement, it is let down at times by having too many subplots. Some of these are excusable, the main antagonist, the greedy and materialistic Caitlin who is looking to marry Thyrza’s grandnephew in order to inherit the estate and transform it into a hotel, is beyond cliché but is saved by actress Fiona Glascott’s game performance. Other plots end up feeling like padding or at worse completely jarring with the rest of it, such as the plot about Mickey’s friend Sean and his alcoholic father which is unnecessary as it is uninteresting.
While The Legend of Longwood may be unsuitable for children under the age of 9, there is enough here that would keep its young audience engaged with the main storyline. It’s far from perfect, or indeed unlikely to make any real lasting impression, it is a very decent attempt at transforming folk and fairy tales into the modern world.