Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Stormy Weather

Weather has always been something of a national obsession for Irish people, and while we're accustomed to long wet winters, the country seems thoroughly fed up with the current prolonged spell of Atlantic storms battering the west coast of the country, effectively washing away whole tracts of land, and leaving coastal towns and cities at the mercy of surging flood waters.

In 1969 David Lean stood on the craggy coastline of the Dingle peninsula on the west coast of Ireland, and setting his face to the cold bruising weather of the Atlantic, prayed for a storm. Robert Bolt's screenplay for Ryan's Daughter included a sequence where a shipment of guns and ammunition destined for Irish rebels in their struggle against British occupation, was landed on a beach amid a spectacular storm. The weather in general proved decidedly uncooperative for Lean, the director had great difficulty matching shots from one day to the next and constant drizzle had caused the film to fall behind schedule. And still no storm had arrived that Lean was happy with. With the production at an impasse the director was persuaded to pick up filming in Cape Town, where Lean's location scout Eddie Fowlie found a beach that would seamlessly match the location in Dingle. In a cruel twist of fate, the Atlantic offered up a suitably ferocious storm while Lean was in South Africa, so the filming was left to second unit director Roy Stevens, a camera crew, special effects team, and a few hardy stuntmen. The footage captured over the course of five days on Couminoole Beach in Kerry was spectacular. That it plays so well in the film is due in part to Lean who expertly cut the footage together for the sequence, but Stevens' work was so good, it soured his relationship with Lean and both men did not speak for many years. The screen grabs below can only give a slight approximation of the storm sequence, seeing it in motion is still hugely thrilling, with its smashing waves, and huge vortices of spray scaling the heights of the cliff walls. Today a studio would insist, not unreasonably so, that such a sequence be augmented with CGI, and while the cast members in the scene were doused with water from a 500-gallon drum (rather than being exposed to the storm force waves), the sequence retains a genuine sense of peril, with extras scurrying around across slippery rocks and being routinely knocked off their feet. Footage from the storm sequence can be viewed here




  1. Love it, Wes. You are making me want to either pop in Ryans Daughter or pop in to the car and head down to Dingle.

  2. I know ! I'd love to be on the coast now. We had some ferocious winds in Cork city earlier but things seem to be improving. I was watching some footage on Sky News at lunchtime and the UK is getting hammered.