The Snow Goose

The Snow Goose

1971 - United Kingdom

Starring Richard Harris and Jenny Agutter, this short 1971 film is a poignant adaptation of Paul Gallico's classic novella. The story is a stark and hauntingly beautiful drama weaving together themes of love, sacrifice and the power of human connection. Superbly directed by Patrick Garland with stunning cinematography by Patrick Carey, compelling characters, and an evocative soundtrack by Carl Davis, The Snow Goose stands as a true masterpiece of storytelling.

Gallico’s delicate novel is set on the Great Marsh on the Essex coast between the fictional village of Chelmbury and the ancient Saxon oyster-fishing hamlet of Wickaeldroth, described as ‘a low, far-reaching expanse of grass and reeds and half-submerged meadowlands ending in the great saltings and mud flats and tidal pools near the restless sea.’  

The Snow Goose

Nearby, living in a disused lighthouse, long since converted into a studio, is the sensitive and tormented artist Philip Rhayader (Harris), shunned by society due to a hunched back and a withered arm. Rhayadar is a conservationist who loves the marsh wildfowl and it is whilst out walking one day that he hears the sound of gunshots from two wild-fowlers who have targeted a goose of the type they have never seen before. After chasing the men off, Rhayadar hears the whimpers of a young girl. Investigating, he comes across Frith (Agutter - Call the Midwife), a young orphan who has found the game that the men were shooting at and is cradling it in her arms.

Rhayadar identifies the bird as a Canadian Snow Goose who had been blown off course by the strong November winds. Although injured with a damaged wing tip and a broken leg, the goose is still alive, so Rhayadar invites Frith to take it back to his lighthouse where they can tend to the animal’s injuries. On entering, he informs Frith that she is the first person ever to visit him and she in turn tells him that the people in the village say that they should keep away from him. And so begins an unlikely friendship as they nurse the bird back to health.

The Snow Goose

Richard Harris delivers a spellbinding performance as Rhayader, capturing the character's tenderness and vulnerability. Through his nuanced portrayal, Harris allows the audience to empathize with Rhayader's inner turmoil and the emotional scars he bears. Jenny Agutter's portrayal of Frith is equally captivating. As the young girl blossoms under the tutelage of Rhayader, Agutter successfully conveys the innocence and compassion that reside within her. Although in the original novel Frith is only 12 years old, Jenny Agutter at that time was 19.

The Snow Goose

As Germany invades Poland and the war begins, Rhayader, eager to ‘do his bit,’ applies to 'sign up' but is given the run-around by recruitment officers due to his disabilities. Finally, he is told that in a real emergency, his involvement is more likely to be ‘a hindrance.’ However, when the news breaks that the British Expeditionary Force is trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk, and every tug and fishing boat or power launch that can propel itself should head across the Channel to haul the men off the beaches to the transports and destroyers that could not reach the shallows, to rescue as many as possible from the Germans’ fire, Rhayadar seizes the chance to prove himself.

Beyond the stellar performances, The Snow Goose delights viewers with its breathtaking visuals. The cinematography, with its sweeping shots of the picturesque coastal landscape and Rhayader's enchanting lighthouse, transports viewers into the world of the film. Each frame is carefully composed, highlighting the beauty of the natural surroundings and adding depth to the story.

Although not officially released on DVD (there are some poor quality pirate copies about – best to avoid), The Snow Goose is available (at the time of writing) online (again, not a great copy but at least you won’t be out of pocket).

The Snow Goose won a Golden Globe Award for Best Television Film and was nominated for a British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Production. It was also nominated for a whopping nine Primetime Emmy Awards, winning one for Jenny Agutter for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Drama. Whether you are a fan of timeless classics or a newcomer to the story, The Snow Goose is an absolute must-watch. Prepare to be captivated, moved, and forever touched by this extraordinary tale.

Published on October 27th, 2023. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.

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