Mij and Me
"Marley & Me" and "Andre" are all entertaining examples of movies based on true stories about an animal which becomes part of the family. There are others as well but none are as entertaining or as charming as "Ring of Bright Water" from 1969. Based upon Gavin Maxwell's autobiographical novel, "Ring of Bright Water" is in many ways a mixture of stories as on one hand it's almost like a journal of a man's life after he buys an otter and moves to Scotland and on the other it is the adventures which this otter, Mij, goes on. But what makes "Ring of Bright Water" so good is that whilst the original storyline has been altered to work on the big screen it still feels honest, at times raw as it doesn't shun away from real life.
Restless of his life in London, aspiring writer Graham Merrill (Bill Travers - Born Free) finds himself buying an Otter he sees in a pet shop window. But London or his little flat is no place to bring up an Otter so Graham and Mij, as he calls his new friend, move to a remote corner of Scotland and an old wreck of a cottage which needs plenty of work. Together they soon settle in to their new life with local Doctor Mary McKenzie (Virginia McKenna - A Town Like Alice) joining them after Graham makes friends with her. But their new life in Scotland isn't all easy going as Graham discovers that having an otter as a best friend is a big distraction from writing the book he always planned to do.
Watching "Ring of Bright Water" now you could say that it feels a little cliche, after Graham buys the Otter his life changes as he bonds with the mischievous Mij. And what we get is a pleasant narrative throughout the movie as we watch Graham and Mij become inseparable to the point that when Mij goes missing one day Graham becomes frantic by the loss of his best friend.
But beyond what is now almost cliche is a nice storyline made all the more impressive by its styling. We get the almost diary like storyline of Graham as we get occasional bursts of narration which feels like it's coming straight out of his diary. And then mixed in with this are the adventures which Mij undertakes, his escape from the house, playing with the abandoned birds and so on. It allows "Ring of Bright Water" to give us an entertaining story but also a lot of nature scenes as we watch Mij swimming or slinking his way down to the beach. And all of this is lovely because it brings us into this life, making us feel part of this special bond between Graham and Mij.
What is also a pleasure is that the storyline has a romantic slant as Graham meets the attractive female doctor Mary. But instead of allowing the romance to dominate the movie and in doing so detract from watching Graham and Mij it simmers quietly in the background. In fact it never really comes to the surface we are just aware that Graham and Mary become close rather than fully developing the romance with big gestures and romantic meals.
But what is particularly stand out for me is that whilst Gavin Maxwell's story has been altered to work as a movie it doesn't become to glossy. There is a rawness to "Ring of Bright Water" not just in the look, which it has to be said is quite stunning with director Jack Couffer magnificently capturing the beauty but also the roughness of the Scottish countryside, but also in the story. It is shall we say an emotional storyline and there is no shying away from real life, delivering a shock for anyone not aware of the magnificent story. But it is also heart-warming allowing us to ride the wave of emotion in a very natural way.
As for the performances well having already worked together on "Born Free" husband and wife Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna give a far more restrained performance as Graham and Mary. Much of "Ring of Bright Water" lies on the shoulders of Bill Travers who does a brilliant job of delivering the light hearted side with the mischievous Mij but not allowing it to become overly comical. And when the storyline becomes more dramatic he is equally as good showing the emotional bond that formed between man and otter. Virginia McKenna does just as well delivering a believable performance as this strong Scottish doctor. But what is impressive is not her acting but her whole look radiating beauty but also looking like someone who works hard and lives in the blustery hills of Scotland.
Plus of course being a movie about an Otter it would be wrong to ignore Mij who it has to be said steals so many scenes by being cute and mischievous. But what is nice is that whilst Mij understandably become Graham's best friend he doesn't become to much of human. He may obey commands and understands when his name is called but he still has an element of wild animal about him.
What this all boils down to is that "Ring of Bright Water" is truly a very entertaining movie and despite being over 40 years old is still one of the best movies when it comes to a true story based on the relationship between a man and animal. From the stunning scenery through to the perfect blend of humour and drama it doesn't put a foot wrong. But it is the touch of reality which makes it such a great movie, allowing it to entertain through various fun scenes but never becoming false or overly glossy.