Fidelma Farley / “The Past and British Cinema” / British Historical Cinema / 2002

Ryan’s Daughter, dir. David Lean, 1970.

In British cinema, Ireland is always already “the past.” Ireland and Irish in atemporal, pre-social realm, without advanced economic, social, political structure. Colonized, less advanced, and in need of benefits of colonization. Anne McClintock describes paradox that colonized as represented as out of time/ in parallel space outside of history, and therefore not subject to forces of changes, evolution, progress (See Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Context, 1995). Geographical distance across space = historical distance across time. John Hill has argued that, for films relating to Anglo-Irish politics, Irish violence and resistance to British rule represented as irrational, atavistic. Irish landscape as “authentic,” regenerative, anti-materialistic, but also the site of political danger and violence. The IRA can hide there. In Ryan’s Daughter, 1970, David Lean, political passion and nature are conflated. Nostalgia for empire, recognition of inevitability of national independence, envy of Irish zeal versus English disaffectedness. Ref. Kaja Silverman, “Historical Trauma and Male Subjectivity,” Psychoanalysis and Cinema. Silverman: the “dominant fiction,” composed of a culture’s narrating and images that establish the consensus and belief in phallic masculinity, undergoes a crisis at certain moments in history. Also, spectacle of male castration can lead to possible destructive questioning of dominant fiction. Male subjectivity as stress point, especially in classic narrative film. Ned Sinyard, “David Lean: Home and the Concept of Englishness,” home as domestic space and nation frequently problematized by Lean. For Silverman, eroticization of male lack is potentially radical challenge to patriarchal defined masculinity as controlling and authoritative. Concluding gesture: Michael Collins (1996) was one film that refused to cast nationalism as unruly/atavistic; film and its reception demonstrated the past is not sealed off from the present, and British and Irish cinema have a duty to explore their mutual history in a way that doesn’t abuse present relations.


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