A Shine of Rainbows
- Directed by Vic Sarin
- Written by Vic Sarin, Catherine Spear and Dennis Foon
- Starring Aidan Quinn, Connie Nielsen and John Bell
- Classification: PG
Sincere performances and the beautiful gold-and-grey Donegal landscape can only go so far in A Shine of Rainbows, a family film that risks drowning in its own syrup. The story of an Irish orphan boy who finds parental love on a remote island mixes pathos and tweeness for a flood of "ahhhh" moments: a stammering motherless child, a stranded baby seal and rainbows that pop up on cue to burbling Irish music.
This Canadian-Irish production is based on the 1984 novel by Lillian Beckwith, adapted by veteran cinematographer and director Vic Sarin (with Catherine Spear and Dennis Foon). The opening scene takes place in a Catholic-run orphanage school. The time period isn't specified, though televisions and cell phones aren't in evidence. Sensitive, pale, eight-year-old Tomas, played by John Bell (a sadder-looking version of Macaulay Culkin, in his Home Alone era) gets roughed up by the bigger boys until he's rescued by a priest who takes him to the principal's office.
There he meets Maire (Danish actress Connie Nielsen), a golden-haired vision in colourful clothes, who announces she's his new mother. Soon she takes Tomas with her to her island home, where her gruff husband Alec (Aidan Quinn), also known as Himself, tends sheep and traps crabs. Quinn, looking grizzled and twinkly, is never actually intimidating, which makes his eventual emotional thaw only a matter of time.
The initial set-up promises an Oedipal competition between father and adopted son for the affections of the angelic Maire. Also raised in an orphanage, Maire bonds with the child while the gruff and manly Alec feels displaced and irritated by the weak, fearful child. At night, Tomas listens in on Alec's and Maire's conversations, from which he learns that Alec has not yet signed the adoption papers.
Meanwhile, Maire helps ease Tomas's loneliness by introducing him to local siblings Seamus and Nancy (Jack Gleason and Tara Alice Scully). She also fills him in on local superstitions, including the one about a tower-like rock formation that she says is the petrified form of the mythical King Fingal, who can grant wishes. Maire also shows Tomas how to call to the seals in the sea, which, she says, can carry messages to the dead.
Maire, with her bright clothes and talk of colours, has a special kinship with rainbows, including, unfortunately, a transitory existence. When she suddenly takes ill and has to be sent to a hospital on the mainland, Tomas is left to care for Alec, and a seal pup, stranded on the beach by the tide.
A movie that was merely sentimental turns cloying in the final third, as rainbows, seals and other natural forces conspire to bring Dad and adopted son together. The trouble with so much magic is that it depletes whatever core of emotional authenticity exists in the performances. Instead of credible characters, we end up with illustrations on a sparkly greeting card.