Director David Lean chose this picturesque location for his 1970 film, 'Ryan's Daughter' starring Sarah Miles in the title role and Robert Mitchum as the school teacher who becomes her husband. The movie is set in a remote Irish village in the highly politically charged period of 1916. Sarah Miles was nominated for an Oscar for her role. In his role of the village idiot, John Mills attracted no shortage of criticism, but ultimately won him an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor.
The film was not without its production problems, both natural and human! The rugged Irish weather proved a challenge and some of the beach scenes were shot in Cape Town, South Africa, as well as Inch Beach in Kerry. However, when Lean wanted a dramatic Atlantic storm suitable for the script, he had to wait for a year. When the storm finally appeared, actor Leo McKern was injured (lost his glass eye!) and claimed he would never act in film again! In actual fact, he was true to his word for a few years and steered clear of film work, but made the most of his TV career, eventually starring in Rumpole of the Bailey.
Among the cast, there were also some stormy times. In the script, Sarah Miles' character Rosy has an affair with a British major visiting the village, played by Christopher Jones. These two cast members famously did not work well together, despite having to share multiple love scenes. According to film folk lore, Robert Mitchum and Sarah Miles conspired to drug Christopher Jones in preparation for the pivotal love scene in the forest. They accidentally overdid it, so Jones was almost unconscious during filming!
The location itself serves as an evocative backdrop to the turbulent times, both political and personal. Cinematographer Freddie Young won an Oscar for his skilled filming of what was already a dramatic site. The movie was filmed in and around Slea Head and Dunmore Head on the Dingle Peninsula in the county of Kerry on the west coast of Ireland. A small village was established for the shooting of the film which was demolished afterwards, however the school house, central to the story, remains.
Whenever I visit, it is clear to me why Lean chose the Dingle Peninsula for the film. It's natural sense of drama and classic example of wild Irish landscape made it a character all of its own.