The Colleen Bawn is indicative of Kalem’s aspiration to aim its Irish subjects beyond an Irish-American audience and is highly ambitious in its conception. Like Rory O’More, the film is based on a 19th century literary source. Dion Boucicault’s 1860 play was a theatrical phenomenon, widely known and frequently revived on both sides of the Atlantic. Loosely based on Gerald Griffin’s 1829 novel The Collegians – itself based on real events that occurred in Co. Clare in 1819 – Boucicault followed the novel in relocating the infamous story of inter-class tragic romance to Killarney, most likely as a consequence of the town’s international fame as a tourist destination. Olcott’s mastery of location shotting is in evidence as is his versatility as an actor in his playing of Danny Mann. The central novelty of the film is to recreate Boucicault’s drama using the ‘real’ locations of the play’s events, notably ‘the Colleen Bawn Rock’.
The authenticity of locations is underscored again and again in the film’s intertitles (a feature repeated in subsequent films) and brought to an absurd level with the introduction of ‘Daniel O’Connell’s bed’. Such a commitment to authenticity is unfortunately at the expense of fidelity to Boucicault’s complex narrative which, in its abbreviated adaptation to film, is difficult for a contemporary viewer, unfamiliar with the play, to follow. The shooting of the film was interrupted by denouncements of Kalem as ‘tramp photographers’ by the local priest. The company also adapted Boucicault’s Arran na Pogue during this visit, but the film no longer survives.
Notes by Tony Tracy.