Cast & Crew
Dissatisfied with her marriage to Matthew, a medical student, Cass leaves London on Christmas Day and returns to the small fishing village of Lahinch on the west coast of Ireland. Years before, she was in love with a young fisherman named Colin and left Lahinch to go to London, certain that he would follow her. Instead, he went to sea, and Cass took a dull office job, entered into a loveless marriage, and had a miscarriage when she jumped from a bus to follow a man she thought was Colin. Now back in Lahinch, she finds everything just as it had been before. Seeking out Colin, she pleads with him to stay with her for just one night, but Colin is engaged and tells her that he can never recapture his youth. Matthew, who followed her to Lahinch, meets her on the sand dunes and asks her to come home, but Cass explains that even though Colin is lost to her, she cannot leave the only place where she once knew peace and happiness. Matthew finally says goodbye to Cass and returns to London.
I Was Happy Here -
The main character is Cass Langdon, a romantically troubled woman who returns to her hometown, a fishing village in County Clare, Ireland, to visit an old boyfriend named Colin Foley when her marriage to Matthew Langdon, a successful but unloving London doctor, shows every sign of falling apart. Matthew follows her and eventually confronts her, less to repair their relationship than to force a final crisis. Flashbacks show Cass's bygone love affair with Colin, which didn't ultimately lead to marriage, and her subsequent love affair with Matthew, whom she met at the service station where she worked. The ending is bitter and sweet in roughly equal measure.
I Was Happy Here was made in the aftermath of the British New Wave movement, which revitalized British film in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The movement's aim was to tackle present-day social problems, as the Italian Neorealists had been doing, with an open delight in cinematic style heavily influenced by the French New Wave filmmakers. Like such British New Wave classics as Jack Clayton's Room at the Top (1958) and Tony Richardson's Look Back in Anger (1959), I Was Happy Here deals aggressively with class issues contrasting the working-class roots of Cass and Colin with the upper-class rigidity and snobbism of Matthew, and clearly favoring the plain folks over the patricians. Davis fills the screen with stylistic flourishes as well most notably in rapidly edited montage sequences that juxtapose seemingly extraneous minutiae-quick glimpses of everything from architectural details to images from Hollywood movies-with the flow of the narrative.
A Taste of Honey (1961) and Davis's own Girl with Green Eyes, add further to the aesthetic mix. So do the contributions of art director Tony Woollard, whose placements of Christian iconography in the décor both underscores the Irish-Catholic ambience and lends a touch of the spiritual to an otherwise secular story. Another hallmark of the British New Wave was the habit of singling out drab, kitchen-sinky environments, and this tendency is evident in both Woollard's décors and Manny Wynn's cinematography, as when the bleakness of an overgrown cemetery is enhanced by the unsightly gashouses that loom behind it.
One of the most memorable moments in I Was Happy Here is borrowed from the neighboring media of theater and television. Discontentedly wandering down a London street one day, Cass comes upon a store window filled with TV sets, one of which is tuned to a broadcast of the ancient Greek tragedy Antigone in the modern version that French playwright Jean Anouilh wrote in 1943 as a protest against France's collaboration with the Nazi occupation of his country. Anouilh's brilliant play dissects the nature of tragedy itself, arguing that when human weakness and misunderstanding coil up like an overwound spring, the slightest motion can set catastrophe on a glide path that's impossible to stop. Cass's predicaments and dissatisfactions can't be called tragic in the all-embracing sense explored by Sophocles and analyzed by Anouilh, but her unhappiness is deep and authentic nonetheless - the title I Was Happy Here is sadly ironic, referring to a vanished time that appears to be forever lost - and Davis gives it the caring, compassionate attention it deserves despite its seemingly modest dimensions.
Miles's performance in I Was Happy Here came about halfway between her top-flight work in Joseph Losey's class-conscious drama The Servant (1963) and her widely praised acting in David Lean's epic romance Ryan's Daughter, which earned her an Academy Award® nomination for best actress of 1970. Caffrey and especially Glover are quite good as Colin and Matthew, respectively, but it's surprising that they have lower billing than Cyril Cusack, who has considerably less screen time than the others. Or maybe it's not surprising, since Cusack is a superb actor whose subtle, understated manner is ideally suited for the role of Hogan, the owner of the humble hotel where Cass is staying during her retreat. I also want to mention Cardew Robinson's brief appearance as the gravedigger in the overgrown cemetery, a man of few words who makes an impression even though he speaks in clichés.
The influential New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther had little use for I Was Happy Here, calling it "ponderous and banal" and expressing wonderment that "the heretofore vital Miss Miles could appear so sadly insipid and totally de-energized." An opposite reaction came from the trade paper Variety, which applauded Miles for "a most convincing...combo of wistful charm but with the femme guile never far below the surface," and praised Davis for expressive use of Irish locations, saying that "the contrast between the peaceful, lonely sea-coast village and the less peaceful but equally lonely bustling London is artfully wed." I Was Happy Here is no masterpiece, but it holds up nicely today.
Director: Desmond Davis
Producer: Roy Millichip
Screenplay: Desmond Davis, Edna O'Brien; based on Edna O'Brien's story "A Woman by the Seaside"; with an excerpt from Jean Anouilh's play Antigone
Cinematographer: Manny Wynn
Film Editing: Brian Smedley-Aston
Art Direction: Tony Woollard
Music: John Addison
With: Sarah Miles (Cass Langdon), Cyril Cusack (Hogan), Julian Glover (Matthew Langdon), Sean Caffrey (Colin Foley), Maire Keane (barkeeper), Eve Belton (Kate), Cardew Robinson (gravedigger)
by David Sterritt
I Was Happy Here -
Filmed on location in County Clare, Ireland, and London. Released in Great Britain in July 1966 as I Was Happy Here. Working title: Passage of Love.
Released in United States 1966
Released in United States 1966