University College Cork, Ireland
The Legend of Longwood (Lisa Mulcahy 2014)
Performance of Myth: The Legend of Longwood (Lisa Mulcahy 2014)
The Legend of Longwood, situated in the realm of family adventure film, is one of a number of recent Irish films, including Pursuit (2015) and Song of the Sea (2014) to feature the use of myth prominently. The film follows twelve year old Mickey Miller, her mother, and younger brother as they move from New York to the fictional Irish village of Longwood after inheriting a home there. Mickey’s arrival coincides with the return of the legendary Black Knight. Once a prominent and kind man living in the Dumonceau castle, after his baby daughter was kidnapped he became angry and bitter, working the villagers too hard and starving them in a manner reminiscent of Famine Era Ireland. On the night of a tragic fire that killed seven village children, the Knight mysteriously disappeared and was believed dead. Since then, the village has been cursed by the Black Knight who continues his search for his daughter. While the employment of the myth in this film will satisfy the film’s younger viewers (and intended audience) with its fantastical elements, it raises different points for older viewers with economically-driven subplots, performative undertones, and questions of identity.
Unlike the established Irish mythology used in Song of the Sea or Pursuit, the mythical story in The Legend of Longwood originated in the Netherlands, with the screenplay by Nadadja Kemper, and was then rewritten by director Lisa Mulcahy (Red Rock, The Clinic) for the Irish setting. This hybridisation speaks to the film’s international co-production and financing: Grand Pictures (Ireland), Holland Harbour (the Netherlands), and Longwood Pictures (Germany), produced the film and it was funded by the Irish Film Board, the Dutch Film Fund, Premiere Pictures, and the German Federal Film Fund. This mixture of funding, the fact that the film was shot primarily in Wicklow and Dublin, and the plot which centres on an American heroine, all bear influence on the film and are reflected in its distribution to date. After premiering in July 2014 at the 44th Giffoni Film Festival in Italy, The Legend of Longwood continued to play on the Festival circuit in Europe and, in 2015, was released on DVD in the US and Canada, and theatrically in Germany, Ireland and the UK. The clear links between the film’s funding, casting, narrative and the locations of its distribution, speak to the ways in which economic factors play a large role in how films are constructed. The topic of economic incentive also features prominently within this film, and is critiqued.
The employment of myth in The Legend of Longwood acts, in two separate ways, to place Ireland in an international context. The first of these focuse on money and the second on identity. Early on in the film we are introduced to the commodification of Longwood, and its myth, in the village library. Here, we see a poster advertising the sights of Longwood as well as a rack of postcards for sale. As the librarian discusses having seen the Black Knight recently, the Mayor picks up a postcard featuring the Knight, highlighting the degree to which the legend has become a product. This postcard sparks an idea for further revenue, and the Mayor schemes up a way to draw more visitors to the village. He enlists the help of a newspaperman to perform the myth and then write an article on it. After the “Knight” makes an appearance at the village’s very public inaugural car rally and word spreads, the Mayor hopes that the intrigue of the legend will put the village on the map. Though he does not believe in the legend himself, the Mayor is more than happy to sell a performance of it. While hatching the plan, he says: “There is no Black Knight. But then, the tourists don’t know that.”This statement, overtly referencing tourists (and how to fool them), brings to mind Ireland’s own strong economic links with tourism. A recently published report by Fáilte Ireland detailing overseas tourism to Ireland in 2014, notes an overall growth of 6%, bringing in 7.1 million visitors who spent an estimated €5.1 billion in the country (Tourism Facts 20142). The impact this has in Ireland is made clear by the fact that 24.5c is generated in tax for every euro spent on tourism and 34 tourism jobs are supported by every €1 million of tourist expenditure (4). Additionally, “because tourism is characterised by the fact that consumption takes place where the service is available and tourism is frequently concentrated in areas which lack an intensive industry base, it is credited with having a significant regional distributive effect” (2). Bearing these facts in mind, the Mayor’s plan to revitalise his village in The Legend of Longwood does not seem outlandish, even if he does have to create a performance to do it. After all, so too are most tourism campaigns, along with the performances of traditional music and dance (and myths of leprechauns) that bring tourists to Ireland.
Unfortunately, the Mayor’s plan to “save” Longwood is ultimately an expression of his own greed. His character is set up as one of the “bad guys” in the film, aligned with Caitlin Lemon, who will stop at nothing to marry the wealthy Earl, Marc Dumonceau (descendant of the Black Knight), in order to raise her own status and riches (her mother used to clean the Dumonceau castle which Caitlin now seeks to inherit). The excessively materialistic, status-driven attitudes of these two characters, and their snobby children, are reminiscent of the excesses of Celtic Tiger Ireland. Their self-indulgence sees them hatch plans of questionable morality together in order to reach their respective goals; Caitlin plans to sell the Dumonceau lands to the Mayor for €2 million so he can create a golf course to personally benefit from tourism revenue and she can transform the castle into a modern mansion, complete with tennis courts and pools.
The fact that these two characters are portrayed as conniving, willing to break the law, and cause harm to others, in the pursuit of their capitalistic desires, illustrates the potentially negative impacts of tourism. It is here shown as a greedy endeavour by a few individuals that would harm the town’s culture and history, particularly evident through the plans to modernise and commercialise the historic Dumonceau castle and grounds. This characterisation of tourism (development plans) as “bad” and capitalistic in the film is similarly found in other films with Americans travelling to Ireland, particularly The Matchmaker (1997), Irish Jam (2006), and Honeymoom for One (2011). As is the case in all of these films, the “good” locals ultimately win, preserving their community with the help of the American who has become a part of it. Just as the Celtic Tiger went bust, so too does the greed of Caitlin and the Mayor backfire in The Legend of Longwood as their plans are foiled by Mickey. This negative portrayal of tourism falls in line with the binary typically found in Irish tourism research wherein “either tourism is seen as a ‘Good Thing’ which brings in money, creates jobs and facilitates regional development or it is seen as intrusive, exploitative and uniquely destructive in its commodification of peoples and their cultures” (Cronin and O’Connor 3). Though the Mayor’s utilisation of the myth to drive tourism in Longwood is has the potential to benefit the village, the way he and Caitlin are positioned in opposition to the film’s heroine, their greed, and the questionable methods they use in their endeavours, ultimately paint tourism as both exploitative and destructive, rather than allowing for a middle ground.
Meanwhile, Mickey’s involvement with the myth, and her own plan to save Longwood by breaking the curse, creates positive personal growth for her character, broadening her perspective and reconfiguring her identity. Upon first learning of her family’s sudden move from New York to Ireland, Mickey is upset and does not want to go. Her mother tells her “it’s Ireland, not the end of the world”. However, upon arriving at their new (run-down) home in Longwood during a cold, grey day, Mickey calls it just that, and has no interest in being there. Told this is their home now, Mickey claims that “this will never be home”, a sentiment that is visually reinforced moments later with a broken “Home Sweet Home” flowerpot. Mickey is thus initially set up in opposition to Ireland, hoping to return to New York. However, things soon change as she becomes involved with the legend of the Black Knight. Mickey befriends her classmate Sean, whose help she enlists in breaking the curse, and Lady Thyrza Dumonceau, who explains the legend to her. These friendships act as the first connections to her new life, wearing down her oppositions. Thyrza also introduces Mickey to seven white horses tied to the legend that appeared on the castle grounds after the death of the seven children. Mickey’s love for horses, and the reminder of her old horse in New York, immediately connects her to them, and further draws her into the legend and her new life.
The more Mickey investigates the more her links to the tale become evident, and she re-evaluates her own identity. We learn that Mickey’s father, an archaeologist who has been missing for years (presumed dead), was from Ireland, and Mickey begins to relate to this side of her identity, previously left largely unexplored. After Thyrza suddenly turns up dead and Mickey has visions of the Black Knight, with Thyrza telling her to break the curse, she seeks Sean’s help. Not believing Mickey’s visions he exclaims: “you Americans, you come here and see ghosts […] What’s next, leprechauns?” This once again separates Mickey from Ireland, labelling her as American (or foreign). It simultaneously brings attention back to the tales told to draw in tourists, commodified myths. However, after now having lived in the village, Mickey takes a new stance, telling Sean: “My father is Irish, so technically I’m only half American.” With this statement, Mickey firmly establishes her identity as Irish-American, rather than simply American, and, at the same time, now professes to have a more intricate knowledge of, and connection to, Ireland than an average American. Now that she lives there, her sense of connection has shifted and she reduces her identification with America to half, illustrating the protean nature of identity. The direct measurement (and hyphenation) of her identity reveals the choice and shifting balance of identification involved in forming it.
Mickey is still referred to as a “Yank” in the film by classmates, and, as she and Sean work out how to break the curse they award points to “Ireland” or “America” based on who figures it out. Therefore, she is still set up as American, and ultimately an outsider, in Ireland. Despite claiming her Irish side, Mickey is still from America. She also faces the possibility of returning to America after her investigation of the legend results in confrontations with Caitlin who files a lawsuit, leading Mickey’s mom to decide to move back to New York. Despite originally wanting to return, both Mickey and her brother are now determined to stay in Ireland, their new home. This again illustrates the major shift in Mickey’s identification. As her perception changes, Mickey’s Irish connection is revealed to be even deeper. The amulet she wears (a gift from her father) is connected to the curse, and needed to break it, along with a song he sung to her as a child. As she discovers these links, Mickey also uncovers the fact that the Black Knight’s daughter survived, adopted by the family who ran the mill, and that she, herself, is a direct descendant of them both. Not only does this mean Mickey is perfectly suited to break the curse and save Longwood, it also provides her with historic, deeply embedded roots in the village. This draws comparison to many other Irish-Americans whose relatives left Ireland generations ago, but Mickey’s experience is made more unique by the myth which not only gives her a specific purpose and role in Longwood, but also allows her to interact with her ancestors as the legend essentially brings them to life, connecting her to Ireland in both an historical and contemporary sense.
Ultimately, the use of myth in The Legend of Longwood drives more than the narrative of the film. As Barry Keith Grant points out, “whether they are set in the past or in the future, on the mean streets of a contemporary New York or long ago in a galaxy far away, genre movies are always about the time and place in which they are made” (6). The decision to perform the legend of the Black Knight to entice tourists in the film directly references Ireland’s own tourism industry, wherein various “performances” are sold to tourists. Practices of tourism that tarnish history are simultaneously critiqued here by revealing the Mayor’s greed and placing him (and his plans for the village) on the “bad” side. At the same time, the myth casts Mickey as a heroine, and affects her own performance of identity. Acting at a more personal level, Longwood’s legend becomes Mickey’s own as she confronts her family’s past and transforms from a homesick American to an Irish-American at home in Ireland (albeit still considered American). In its application to Irish tourism and diasporic identification, the performance of the myth in The Legend of Longwood ultimately links directly with certain Irish realities. The international nature of these, and the collaboration involved in producing the film, similarly speaks to the reality of an increasingly globalised, migratory world which continues to shape both identity and film.
Cronin, Michael and Barbara O’Connor (eds.). 2003. Irish Tourism: Image, Culture and Identity. Clevedon: Channel View Publications.
Grant, Barry Keith. 2007. Film Genre: From Iconography to Ideology. London: Wallflower Press.
Tourism Facts 2014. 2015. Dublin: Fáilte Ireland, October 2015 [Web accessed on 30 December 2015].