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The Rock in the Sea

average rating is 4 out of 5


Patrick Foley


Posted on:

Nov 18, 2022

Film Reviews
The Rock in the Sea
Directed by:
Niall Duffy
Written by:
Niall Duffy
Jonathan French, Sean Derry

It’s perhaps a worrying sign when films about the inhabitants of desolate Irish islands coming to terms with death and despair becomes something of a cinematic trend. The Rock in the Sea doesn’t quite match Oscar favourite The Banshees of Inisherin, but it embraces its own, undoubtable qualities to result in a thoughtful, contemplative short film.


On a remote island off the coast of Ireland in the 9thCentury, Colum (Jonathan French) struggles to cope with the imminent death of his father Muiredach (Sean Derry). With the threat of a Viking invasion as a constant, Colum’s isolation drives him deep into despair, and a revelation about his past threatens to bring his whole world crashing down. He realises he must face his own identity in order to find his place in the world.


With story layers and themes as thick as the stony landscape that makes up its setting, The Rock in the Sea is a fine debut from director Niall Duffy. The movies depth is evident even in its title. The ‘Rock’ refers of course to the tiny island on which Colum and Muiredach live. But additionally, it refers to the idea of resilience in the midst of chaos, uncertainty and challenge. Colum is dealt a terrible break at the beginning of the film as he is plunged into the grieving process. But Muiredach himself is conversely relaxed and content with his own death – long having come to peace with his own life on the island. This interaction is crucial for the rest of the film – as Colum pursues his own contentment with life in the face of despair and isolation.


And that isolation is captured fantastically by the director. The long, roaming shots of the misty, ocean-weathered island brilliantly frame the film as taking place in an isolated setting, and Colum’s loneliness barely needs any further elaboration. It is striking – and totally appropriate - of how much of the film takes place in silence. But Jonathan French’s physical acting is more than up to the task. The director’s mastery of setting a tone is evident by one of the film’s closing scenes – in which Colum is framed as still being isolated, but in a manner that is liberating rather than disheartening – as he himself becomes a ‘rock in the sea’.


French is spectacular as Colum, leading the film as the focus of almost every scene. His ability to channel the range of emotions Colum experiences alone is impressive, and is especially brilliant in maintaining the audience’s interest in the long scenes without dialogue. Sean Derry is similarly impressive as the elder Muiredach, as a mature and reassuring wise-man who levels Colum’s uncertainty. The scenes the pair share feel somewhat stagey at times in how they are framed and scripted, far from a major detriment but one which has a way of impacting on the film’s immersion.


The presentation of the island is a strength, and the aforementioned shooting of the island and the ocean brilliantly emphasising the sense of isolation. The sets and costumes are also largely impressive, though at times feel a little too ‘modern’ to convincingly portray the 9th century. The portrayal of a distant Viking ship is a fantastic touch – showing that Colum is isolated even from the raiders he fears so much – and this is realised well by the filmmakers.


So be prepared for another venture off the Irish coast for The Rock in the Sea. This short story is a fantastic exploration of isolation in a misty Irish setting – and without the maiming this time.

Watch the official trailer for The Rock and the Sea here.

About the Film Critic
Patrick Foley
Patrick Foley
Theatrical Release, Short Film, Digital / DVD Release
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