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Ryan's grand-daughter

He was one of Hollywood's most bankable names, the hard-man actor who commanded top dollar. But on the Dingle Peninsula, Robert Mitchum's lofty celebrity did not excite some locals.

One day, during a break in filming Ryan's Daughter, Mitchum was driving his Porsche over south Kerry's unforgiving roads when he encountered a farmer walking his cattle along a boreen.

The impatient actor asked him if he could move his animals along faster. When nothing happened, the increasingly irate American said: "Don't you know that I'm Robert Mitchum?" To which the herdsman replied that he didn't care if he was Robert Emmet, his cattle would move at their own pace.

Local historian Micheál de Mordha takes up the story: "Mitchum was furious when he got back to his guesthouse and he demanded to know who this Robert Emmet was. The locals gave him a little history lesson."

It is a story that has become part of Ryan's Daughter lore, the sort of titbits still remembered some 40 years after director David Lean and his huge crew -- with Mitchum in tow -- arrived in Dingle.

"It wasn't quite a one-horse town, but it certainly was a sleepy place before Ryan's Daughter" de Mordha says. "After it, Dingle was never the same -- it only got better and bigger. Even today -- and almost every day -- I meet tourists who come to this part of Kerry looking for the Ryan's Daughter experience."

Now, four decades after the film opened to decidedly lukewarm reviews, one of the film's stars, the English actress Sarah Miles, has announced she is close to finishing a screenplay for a proposed sequel.

"She is writing a script and there is a producer for a film," her agent confirmed last weekend. "But it is very early days."

Steven Organ, a film producer who runs the Davidlean.com website and edited David Lean: Interviews, which was published last month, said: "It is interesting that Miles wants to develop the character of Rosy. The film doesn't end on a particularly positive note. It's perhaps a chance to redress that, although Lean is a difficult act to follow."

De Mordha, who wrote an Irish-language book, An Rialtas Ab Fhearr ('The Best Government Ever'), on the impact the film had on the peninsula and who knows Miles well, believes a sequel would be welcomed warmly by the populace. "It would turn back the clock to that glamorous time -- the whole of 1969, a period that is still known as The Year of the Film."

And what a year it was. Not only did the area host one of Britain's finest directors -- Lean was luxuriating in the success of his epics Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia -- and such acting luminaries as John Mills and the aforementioned Mitchum, it also benefited from a huge financial windfall.

Faraway Productions, the film company, went way over budget and spent money as if there was no limit to its bank accounts. It was reckoned that around £1m was splurged on the peninsula in 1969. So free with their money were the film-makers that locals -- employed by them as extras, caterers or drivers -- were earning up to three times their normal salaries. "Some of the people who live here now just came to west Kerry looking for work because the film was shooting here," de Mordha says.

Written by Miles's husband Robert Bolt -- the screenwriter on several of Lean's previous movies -- the film is set in that most momentous of years in Irish history, 1916, and tells the story of an Irish girl who has an affair with a British officer despite opposition from her nationalist neighbours. It is loosely based on Gustave Flaubert's novel, Madame Bovary.

Lean wanted "a wild place" for his film and after his assistants scoured the entire west coast of Ireland, the Dingle Peninsula was chosen as the location of the fictitious village, Killary. The village was built from scratch in a matter of weeks near Dunquin.

Lean was famed for his epic productions and Ryan's Daughter would be no different. A perfectionist, it was not unusual for him to take up to 40 takes per scene -- a policy that tried the patience of several actors, not least the young American, Christopher Jones, who played Miles's love interest. Jones's flaccid performance in the film was singled out for special criticism by many of the reviewers and partly as a result of the savagery he received afterwards, he quit acting.

Lean's desire for verité, meant that the actors had to do their own stunts and at one point, Trevor Howard and John Mills almost drowned under a capsized, upturned canoe, with Mills banging his head off the wood and having to be revived.

Kerry's frequently inclement weather meant Lean often struggled to film the perfect beach scenes and after work was completed in Ireland, he incurred the wrath of his financiers by shooting beaches in South Africa.

But the hell-raising, hard-drinking Mitchum stayed out of trouble for the most part, spending much of his spare time playing frisbee with local kids. It is said that the actor wasn't overly enamoured by Ireland and had to be talked into doing the movie by screenwriter Bolt.

In order to do Ryan's Daughter he passed up the lead role in war movie Patton and his replacement, George C Scott, would go on to win an Oscar for his performance. Mitchum's portrayal of schoolmaster Charles Shaughnessy would not be recognised with an Academy Award nomination.

Mitchum stayed at a guesthouse run by local woman Margaret Sheehy. Speaking on A Bit of a Fillum, an RTE documentary on the making of Ryan's Daughter, Sheehy noted that Mitchum was fond of entertaining the ladies.

She recalls that Sarah Miles, though married to Bolt, who was present during the filming, was "very fond" of Mitchum and that night after night "she'd breeze in upstairs to him, and I'd just close my eyes to those things".

In fact, the actor had lots of young women ferried in to stave off the boredom of a year in the rainy south west, necessitating local auctioneer John Moore to hurriedly whisk them off to Shannon whenever Mitchum's wife threatened to fly in. "Mom, you're running a brothel," Margaret Sheehy's children would tell her.

A year later, when the movie was about to receive its London premiere, Mitchum phoned Margaret and invited her along. She declined but was still struck at him remembering her and bothering to make the call.

Whatever about the critical reaction to the film -- and anger within Ireland over charges of stage oirishness -- Lean and his crew were hardly to anticipate the poor performance of the film at the box office, particularly in the US.

It would win two Oscars -- for John Mills's portrayal of a village simpleton and Freddie Young's sumptuous cinematography -- but it would be a further 14 years before David Lean would make a film again.

For south Kerry, though, Ryan's Daughter only helped usher in the significant tourist destination that is there today. "Without it, Dingle and the surrounding area would be entirely different than it is now," Micheál de Mordha says. "It's a gourmet destination now -- back then, you'd be lucky to get a slice of brown bread.

Both Ryan's Daughter and Fungie (the dolphin who first surfaced in the early 1980s) helped put the place on the map."

For fans of the film keen to walk down Killary's main street, there's disappointment when they get to Dingle. The fictitious village was razed shortly after filming concluded.

After the shoot wrapped, Lean offered the set to the locality for a nominal sum.

But as it was built on a number of commonages, disputes over ownership soon arose. Fed up with the wrangling, the film company knocked it down.

But if Sarah Miles's dream of a sequel comes to fruition, Killary will be rebuilt -- and the denizens of this picturesque part of the country will get another opportunity to live The Year of the Film.