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This is the Sea

Director: Mary McGuckian


The first major feature film to be shot in Northern Ireland during the ceasefire, Mary McGuckian’s This is the Sea is the story of a young couple from different religious backgrounds whose burgeoning relationship has dramatic and violently tragic consequences on both their families. McGuckian emphasises that This is the Sea is not a political film: It is a romantic and passionate story of first love and tragic betrayal.
Hazel Stokes (Samantha Morton), the daughter of a Protestant farmer belonging to the rigid Plymouth Brethren sect, knows little about the conflict that has torn her country apart. And for Malachy McAliskey (Ross McDade), a Catholic who lives with his older brother and single mother in Belfast, his biggest struggle is with the turmoil of youth. When Hazel and Malachy meet for the first time, they do not see the chaos and despair that has wracked their homeland for decades.
They do not see the strong familial ties that dictate they should be enemies. All they see is each other, and they are swept away by the passion of young love.
The couple’s happiness is threatened by both sides. Although Malachy’s brother Paul (John Lynch) is approving, his IRA pal Rohan (Gabriel Byrne) is not, and wants to recruit Paul. Meanwhile, Hazel’s obsessive, unstable brother Jef (Marc O’Shea) spies on her clandestine meetings, reporting back to their uptight mother (Dearbhla Molloy), who decress Hazel a ‘Whore’. Much trouble ensues before a cautiously upbeat ending.
This is the Sea is no downbeat social document, but a remarkably tender romantic thriller that expresses faith in young people’s commitment to each other. Filming in wide-screen and lush colours on Belfast and Antrim locations, McGuckian easily handles shifts of mood from comic to tragic, deftly avoiding situations that have turned into cliches from overuse. The film turns on the young romantic leads, and newcomers Morton (since acclaimed for her performance in Under the Skin) and McDade are outstanding. There’s a lovely turn by Richard Harris as Hazel’s sympathetic, quirky neighbour, and Gabriel Byrne is humorously creepy as the IRA hard man. The film also benefits from a good score by Mike Scott of The Waterboys, one of whose songs gives the film its title. Scott was to appear in the film, but he had to be replaced by Brian Kennedy, who performs two of The Waterboys’ songs and two of his own (Captured and Anniversary).

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