Gorgeous photography of picturesque Irish locales and the opportunity to see veteran actors Anthony Hopkins, Jean Simmons, and Trevor Howard strut their stuff are the main reasons for viewing THE DAWNING. This Masterpiece Theatre-style drama delves into a young woman's coming-of-age
during the political upheaval in 1920s Ireland. The attempt to intertwine the protagonist's nascent womanhood with her evolving political formation doesn't quite click.
Life appears idyllic for Nancy (Rebecca Pidgeon), whose greatest problem is her unrequited love for stuffy Harry Fitzsimmons (Hugh Grant), who's smitten with the priggish Maeve (Tara MacGowran). But Nancy's peaceful existence with her strong-willed aunt Mary (Simmons), senile grandfather
(Howard), and outspoken maid (Ronnie Masterson) is irrevocably altered when a stranger she nicknames Cassius appears at her beach hut hideaway. Nancy befriends the verbose vagabond, a terrorist rebel whose real name is Angus Barry (Hopkins), without comprehending the ramifications of their
alliance. Without reading its contents, she delivers a message to a revolutionary Joe Mulhare (Mark O'Regan) in Dublin. By the time she realizes that the pro-Irish Barry regards murder as a political expediency, Nancy is under his spell. She even fantasizes that her newfound mentor is actually the
long-lost father her family refuses to discuss.
While Nancy attends the races with Aunt Mary and friends, Irish rebels cold-bloodedly execute 12 British soldiers. After the army questions the family about the stranger on the beach, Aunt Mary reveals that the man in the photo the army officer showed them is not Nancy's late father. Unable to
deny her bond with the wandering patriot, Nancy rushes to warn him. Before he can flee, he orders Nancy out of harm's way. Barry surrenders, but the British firing squad executes him on the spot, as Nancy watches in horror.
Graced with delicate nuances and some exceptional performances, THE DAWNING still never comes fully to life. Filled with good intentions, it idles by gracefully until we become more mesmerized by the lush Irish scenery than by any of the familiar polemics. Perhaps the central conceit, which
equates a girl's voyage from adolescence to womanhood with her acquisition of political awareness, just doesn't ring true. Or maybe the details of Nancy's coming-of-age simply aren't revealing or unique enough to sustain this drama's long-running theme. In any event, wide-eyed Rebecca Pidgeon does
not draw us into the ingenuous 19-year-old's struggle to gain possession of her own soul. The dawdling direction mutes the emotional content, and the principals--who chatter endlessly about love and war and betrayal--seem more like carefully positioned mouthpieces in a dramatic schema than
flesh-and-blood people pouring out their hearts to us. Not nearly enough is made of the downside of Barry's charm, which he uses to manipulate an impressionable girl; instead, he's deified as a tragic martyr.
Although one doesn't expect or need equal time for the Opposition, this Ireland-for-the-Irish history lesson emerges as pastel-pretty speechifying, fatally encumbered by its inability to make more than a crying-in-your-teacup melodrama of a heart-breakingly complex political situation. Trevor
Howard's last film, THE DAWNING had a British release in 1988 and appeared in the US on video five years later. (Violence.)
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- Released: 1988
- Rating: NR
- Review: Gorgeous photography of picturesque Irish locales and the opportunity to see veteran actors Anthony Hopkins, Jean Simmons, and Trevor Howard strut their stuff are the main reasons for viewing THE DAWNING. This Masterpiece Theatre-style drama delves into a… (more)