This is the Sea (1997)




Director:  Mary McGuckian.

Starring:  Samantha Morton (Hazel Stokes), Ross McDade (Malachy McAliskey), Richard Harris (Old Man Jacobs), Gabriel Byrne (Rohan), John Lynch (Padhar McAliskey), Dearbhla Molloy (Ma Stokes), Ian McElhinney (Da Stokes), Marc O'Shea (Jef Stokes), Stella McCusker (Ma McAliskey), Mary McGuckian (Cathy), Des McAleer (Inspector Wilson).

troubles for a Protestant and a Catholic who fall in love in Northern Ireland



8/31/1994.  An uneasy peace is declared in Northern Ireland.  But there still remain polarized communities, such as the Protestant Plymouth Brethren and the Catholic Community in West Belfast.  The struggle to overcome past differences continues. 

The young, pretty Hazel Stokes is baptized and welcomed to the Protestant Plymouth Brethren.  Later she attends an agricultural fair with one of the family's cows.  Two young Catholic brothers, the older Padhar and Malachy McAliskey, are having a little too much fun and are driving a little too fast. The fancy MG car has to make an abrupt stop in order not to run into the cows.  Hazel's cow gets very scared and takes off dragging her along the ground and then into the mud.  The front of her white smock is covered in mud.  Hazel's friend, an old man named Jacobs, assists her and she is able to clean her smock a bit. 

The Catholic brothers manage the hot dog stand at the fair.  Hazel and Jacobs purchase some hot dogs from them and Malachy, who is taken by the beauty of Hazel, acknowledges that they had given her a bit of a scare.  The Catholic Rohan, a committed IRA man, comes to the hot dog stand to talk with the brothers.  Rohan works on the one-time active Padhar, who now just wants to be left alone by his former group.  Padhar is reminded by Rohan that he still owes the group for the money for his black taxi cab.  Rohan also wants to recruit Malachy and tells Padhar "to keep on your brother or we'll do it."   After work, Malachy drives his brother to see his girlfriend Cathy who is pregnant. 

Hazel and Malachy, unbeknownst to Hazel's parents, go riding.  Padhar at his mother's house discovers that his cab has been stolen.  Against his wishes, Padhar's mother calls the police to report the stolen car.  The police inform Padhar that his cab was filled with the explosive semtex and they question him about his involvement in the affair.  The police give him a hard time but release his cab back to him. 

Padhar, Cathy and Malachy have fun at a dance bar.  Hazel comes into the bar, but sees her brother Jef Stokes spying on her, which worries her a great deal. Malachy takes Hazel to see the sea.  When he tries to kiss her, she violently pulls away.  She cries and tells him that she is not promiscuous.  Malachy apologizes for moving too fast in the relationship. When Hazel gets home, her mother becomes even more strict with her and refuses to let Malachy speak to her on the phone.  She keeps telling Malachy that Hazel is not available.  In the bathroom Hazel puts on some lip-stick.  Her overly religious mother demands that she let her enter and when she does mom goes a little crazy over the make-up.  She starts shouting that Hazel has been out whoring and that she is a lying whore.  This, of course, upsets Hazel a great deal. 

Hazel sneaks away to see Jef.  As she walks over to Malachy's parked car she sees her brother Jef scurrying away from the vehicle.  It is obvious that Jef has done something to the car.  Jef gets into his own car and as he drives away he tries to run his sister over with his car. 

Rohan continues to work on Malachy to coach his brother in preparation for doing the driving on a "job".  Jacobs calls Malachy to give him the latest news on Hazel and to arrange a meeting of the two.  Later Rohan approaches Malachy telling him:  "We need you for a job."   After some resistance, Malachy agrees.  Padhar will drive Malachy's MG and pick Hazel up at the railway station and Malachy will drive Padhar's black cab to do the job. 

On the bridge waiting for Rohan and his associates, Malachy sees his brother in the MG park the car in the railway station parking lot.  Suddenly a huge explosion engulfs the small car in a ball of fire.  Malachy drives as fast as he can to the site of the explosion, but nothing can be done for poor Padhar.  On Hazel's way to the railway station, the driver Jacobs says he has a flat tire and insists on changing it.  Hazel tells Jacobs that the tire is not flat and that he can still drive her to the local station so that she can catch the train going to the central station.  But Jacobs insists that he has to change the tire.  Hazel misses the train. She learns that all the railway lines have stopped because of the investigation about a car bomb near the railway central station.  And she learns that the vehicle was "a wee red" car.  Hazel puts two and two together and faints.  She thinks that Malachy has been killed by her brother.  Jacobs takes her to his house.  He tries to comfort Hazel but he takes advantage of her and touches her breast.  Hazel is shocked, upset and disgusted by this sexual assault.

The police call Rohan into their office and try to pin the murder on him.  The sassy Rohan tells them that they won't be able to pin the crime on him because it was Hazel's brother Jef who did it.  Despite all their bravado, the police have to release Rohan.  (The police check on Jef but he has an alibi via old man Jacobs.)

Malachy, Cathy and Malachy's mother attend Padhar's funeral.  The IRA men fire their pistols over the coffin in a salute to their comrade Padhar and then have to make a quick get-away from the funeral for fear of the police.  Hazel does not attend the funeral, forbidden attendance by her parents. 

Despite the heavy rain, Hazel wants to run to see Malachy, but she is stopped by Jacobs.  Hazel shouts at Jacobs that he was the one who murdered Malachy. 

One of the police detectives on the case talks with Rohan "off the record".  He tells Rohan that the politicians force a list of a dozen or so Catholic bad men on the police and they are always pressuring them to find something on them to put these trouble makers into prison.  Rohan has been around the block way too many times to take much of this implied threat seriously.  He just laughs it off.

Hazel calls the police to report both Jacobs and her brother Jef.  Jacobs hears her make the call, but does nothing to her.  The police arrive at Jacobs's place and arrest him.  The police then take Hazel with them to head to her farm house to pick up Jef.  Jef hears the police sirens and runs into the barn where he has a shotgun.  The police arrive.  Hazel's father comes out and tells the police he knows where Jef is and he wants to bring him out of the barn himself.  The police let him go into the barn.  The very frightened Jef does not want to hear what his father has to say.  He fires one shotgun shell into the hay starting a blaze.  His father uses the opportunity to grab the shotgun and pull it away from Jef.  Dad pushes Jef out of the barn and the police arrest him and take him away. 

Sitting alone on the rocks by the sea where Malachy and Hazel had sat, Hazel thinks about Malachy and all that has happened.  All of a sudden, Malachy makes an appearance.  And now she feels ready to kiss Malachy and they do so. 


Good movie.  The movie has some interesting twists that caught my wife and I off-guard a bit.  In the Catholic and Protestant communities of the Plymouth Brethren and West Belfast, violence is always lurking in the background and often makes an open appearance.  It is this fear that something bad is going to happen to the couple in love that keeps the tension sustained throughout the movie.  In a way, this is a Romeo and Juliet story but without the extremely sad ending.  There is always the doubt as to the outcome of the movie, so split as the two different religious communities and families are.  Samantha Morton performed well as Hazel Stokes, the most challenging part in the movies as the young woman who was very conflicted between her love for a Catholic man and her strict Protestant family and community.  At times the character of Hazel seemed a bit weird, but this just adds to the viewer's fear that something bad is going to happen to Hazel and/or Malachy.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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