A tragic riding accident leaves twelve year old Mickey (Lucy Morton) nursing a broken leg along with a lot of guilt over the death of her beloved horse. Her mood turns sourer still when widowed mom Lisa (Thekla Reuten) moves Mickey and kid brother Danny (Aaron Kinsella) away from New York back home to Longwood, a small village in rural Ireland. Their small cottage rests at the edge of an estate owned by eccentric Lady Thyrza (Miriam Margolyes) whose stable of seven white horses enchant young Mickey. Beguiled by Lady Thyrza's fairy stories Mickey comes to believe the horses are the reincarnated souls of seven children pursued by a vengeful Black Knight who has haunted Longwood for centuries. When Lady Thyrza passes away unexpectedly the estate passes to her nephew Marc Dumonceau (Sean Mahon). His bitchy fiancé Caitlin Lemon (Fiona Glascott) soon hatches a ruthless plan to do away with the stables and turn the estate into a lucrative golf course. It falls to Mickey to find some way to undo the ancient curse, save the horses and unearth her true destiny.
Of course the high watermark for Irish whimsy remains the Walt Disney classic Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959) although John Sayles' unjustly obscure The Secret of Roan Innish (1994) is not far behind. The Legend of Longwood does not scale those heights but in its brighter moments evokes some of the charm of Mike Newell's neglected gem Into the West (1992). Filmed in Ireland and Germany, the Irish-Dutch-German co-production has the benefit of some glorious rural scenery. Lisa Mulcahy's zesty direction imbues the familiar fairytale plot with welcome magical oomph that compensates for the odd bit of choppy storytelling and cheesy humour seemingly lifted from duff Disney Channel sitcoms.
Co-written by Mulcahy, Nadadja Kemper and Gwen Eckhaus the screenplay, for all its mystical blather about ancestral curses and vengeful knights, is really just another in a long line of movies about girls who love horses and learn life lessons. Taken on that level Legend of Longwood is slight yet satisfying, its principal message aimed at young girls being: when life knocks you down, just get back up again. Certain subplots like the relationship between Mickey's friend Sean (Lorcan Bonner) and his alcoholic dad and Lisa's growing attraction to engaged aristocrat Marc do not gel comfortably with the main story. Nonetheless the filmmakers deftly tie the legend of the Black Knight mourning the loss of his baby daughter with Mickey's own anxiety over her absent father. Seasoned pros Miriam Margoyles, Lorcan Cranitch (as scheming mayor Lance Wicklow) and Fiona Glascott twinkle, sneer or ham it up to endearing effect while young Lucy Morton proves a capable, pleasingly gutsy lead.
Free for the most part from crass gags or karaoke sing-alongs, The Legend of Longwood is a throwback to an old fashioned strain of cosy, character led children's fare. It might not go down as a classic but is solid tea-time viewing for young horse lovers. Music by Patrick Neil Doyle which hits all the familiar family movie notes and lays on the blarney extra thick.