After being denied a promotion at the university where she teaches, Doctor Lily Penleric, a brilliant musicologist, impulsively visits her sister, who runs a struggling rural school in Appalachia. There she stumbles upon the discovery of her life -- a treasure trove of ancient Scots-Irish ballads, songs that have been handed down from generation to generation, preserved intact by the seclusion of the mountains. With the goal of securing her promotion, Lily ventures into the most isolated areas of the mountains to collect the songs and finds herself increasingly enchanted -- not only by the rugged purity of the music, but also by the raw courage and endurance of the local people as they carve out meaningful lives against the harshest conditions. It is not, however, until she meets Tom -- a handsome, hardened war veteran and talented musician -- that she's forced to examine her motivations. Is the "Songcatcher," as Tom insists, no better than the men who exploit the people and extort their land?
Janet McTeer is Lily Penleric, an intrepid (fictional) musicologist who visits the North Carolina mountains, where she discovers and documents a previously unknown musical culture. Although the time is 1907, the likable but corny movie plays like a contemporary feminist fable. Stiff-backed Lily melts in the arms of a soulful mountain man (Aidan Quinn) to whom she teaches a thing or two. The story even throws in a pair of persecuted backwoods lesbians. The soundtrack of traditional Appalachian ballads and the scenery are inviting. - Stephen Holden
2001-06-15 | Stephen Holden | Read the New York Times Review of Songcatcher