DIR: Lisa Mulcahy • WRI: Nadadja Kemper, Lisa Mulcahy, Gwen Eckhaus • PRO: Michael Garland, Nadadja Kemper, Paul Myler, Rob Vermeulen • DOP: Richard Van Oosterhout • ED: Gráinne Gavigan • MUS: Patrick Neil Doyle • DES: Diana van de Vossenberg • CAST: Lucy Morton, Lorcan Bonner, Fiona Glascott, Thekla Reuten, Brendan Conroy, Lorcan Cranitch, Séan Mahon
Best known for directing critically acclaimed television dramas such as The Clinic and Red Rock, Irish director Lisa Mulcahy’s second full-length feature film is the children’s fantasy quest The Legend of Longwood. This coming-of-age adventure follows twelve-year old, horse-mad Mickey Miller, whose life is turned upside-down when her horse dies and her mother uproots the family from New York to an eerie backwater in Ireland. Struggling to adjust, Mickey begins to see sinister apparitions linked to the local legend of a mysterious Black Knight, who has been tormenting the village for three hundred years. She soon discovers the legend, a nasty witch called Caitlin and seven precious horses are all connected back to her and she holds the key to unlocking the secret, redeeming the knight and restoring harmony to the village.
Set amidst vast rolling landscapes seeped in majestic mountains, lush hillsides and mystical moors, the Legend of Longwood provides both a beguiling and foreboding platform from which to spring the magical fantasy and supernatural intrigue the mythical legend evokes. While the cinematography is suitably enchanting, lending well to the menace of ill-omened knights, blazing fires, unexplained deaths and imposing castles, the adventure quest narrative fails to commensurate with the tone and mood established by the film’s polychromatic portrait, largely owing to a transparent imbalance within the script. Fusing a mysterious mythological tale with a contemporary fable of greed and deception, to which a young, fearless heroine must overcome adversity to restore order, is always a good starting point in the fantasy quest genre. The problem within the narrative is that despite some impressive performances, the film is just a little too short on mystery or fantasy and stripped of these crucial narrative elements, very little else remains.
Structured upon two narrative strands, whereby a plucky heroine attempts to thwart the dastardly deeds of the wicked witch while attempting to solve a supernatural riddle, should interweave to consolidate a coherent core narrative driven by the heroine’s transformation as she faces many adversities. The script however, fails to affect such a balance and the narrative takes a wild detour away from the mysterious paranormal quest into the realms of comedy and farce as the witch’s sneaky shenanigans gain momentum, engulfing the entire narrative. As such, the story now meanders from the spellbinding promise of mythological adventure to hoodwinking an incompetent castle lord, devaluing the film’s fantastical elements and losing much of the mystical weight the quest should be seeped in. The real adventure now lies with Caitlin’s cunning strategies, Mickey’s fantastical exploits becoming mere afterthoughts, peppered at random around the witch’s sadistic schemes.
Aside from the standout performances from Fiona Glascott as the calculating shrew (also currently starring in John Crowley’s Brooklyn) and Lorcan Cranitch as her partner in crime, the rest of the cast underwhelm and fail to penetrate the limitations of a script evidently burdened with too many screenwriters. Far too many characters, surplus to requirements, add to the uncertainty of the script’s direction and problematic storytelling, lacking any sense of cohesion between the cast. Seán Mahon as the hoodwinked lord, through no fault of his own, is wholly ineffectual, providing no foil to his fiancée’s plot and is representative of the many of the impotent supporting characters who dot the narrative but pose no serious threat to Mickey, depreciating her status as a heroine and situating her as a rather unidentifiable character.
With so many quest films oversaturating the market, The Legend of Longwood is unsuccessful in delivering a narrative that satisfies the crucial components of any fantasy adventure film. Without a high level of mystical intrigue and unnerving eeriness fuelling the story, the plot fails to ignite on a level that would allow for audience investment and identification. As such, the heroine’s anaemic transformation and spiritless adventures, devoid of emotional punch, merely trundle forward at a lackluster pace, lacking the robustness required to hold the attention of sophisticated audiences of the genre, both adults and children alike. Without a substantial heroine driving the narrative, in a plot that is too light on fantasy and mystery, The Legend of Longwood fails to make much impact, despite its captivating façade and unfortunately the film becomes just another forgettable adventure quest drama.
PG (See IFCO for details)
The Legend of Longwood is released 23rd October 2015