Flickering Myth’s writing team pick out those hidden gems you might have missed; next up is Ozzy Armstrong with…
My Left Foot, 1989.
Directed by Jim Sheridan.
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Brenda Fricker, Alison Whelan, Kirsten Sheridan and Declan Croghan.
Directed by Jim Sheridan, My Left Foot is the story of celebrated author and painter Christy Brown. Despite being born with severe cerebral palsy, Christy learned to paint and write with his only controllable limb – his left foot – and in the process became one of Ireland’s most famous literary sons.
When trying to choose a film for this feature, I’ll happily admit that I found it a huge struggle choosing something that many of you might not have got round to seeing. Not only that though; the film I choose had to be one that had a lasting impact on me as a viewer. After hours of looking through IMDB and my DVD collection, I came across My Left Foot and I knew I had found the work that people may need to be reminded about.
In case you haven’t heard of the man, Christy Brown was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1932. He was one of 20 children (though only 12 survived past infancy) in a large and poor Irish Catholic family. He was born with severe cerebral palsy and the result of this condition meant that he couldn’t speak or control most of his body aside from his left foot.
After years of enforced silence due to his condition, it was only as he got older that Christy learnt how to communicate with his friends and family. At the same time, Christy began painting and writing poetry as a way to further express himself and channel the rage and depression he felt at his isolation.
Upon reading that, you may think that such a character would be impossible to recreate exactly without doing the man a great disservice, yet thankfully the role was offered to the always brilliant Daniel Day-Lewis – a role which earned him the first of his three Oscars.
Many of you would have heard of Day-Lewis and the extraordinary measures he takes to ensure his believability in a role, and in My Left Foot things were no different. During filming, Day-Lewis spent the entire time in character, confining himself to a wheelchair and using only his left foot to move himself around – something he’s since stated he did to fully understand the isolation and embarrassment Christy would have felt. Day-Lewis also managed to match Christy Brown’s Dublin accent through the entire shoot which is even more commendable considering that difficulty that Christy had in speaking.
Further to this, when watching My Left Foot, you can’t help but notice how much Day-Lewis has to contort his body to accurately portray Christy – the result of this means that it must have been incredibly difficult for him to display any emotion without coming across as over the top, yet somehow he does it. Using only his eyes, you can see great depths of rage and sadness one moment only to see warmth and compassion the next – a feat that I think nobody else could have pulled off.
In short, due to the tone of the story and the physicality of the performance, when watching Day-Lewis in this role you realise that you have witnessed one of the greatest acting displays ever put on film – a statement that I’ll admit is indeed bold but entirely justified by the performance.
As good as Day-Lewis is in his role though, he’s not the only excellent thing about My Left Foot. We must of course mention Brenda Fricker for her Oscar winning portrayal of Christy Brown’s mother. This is a role which could have been performed adequately enough by many actresses yet none would have given it the warmth and gravitas that Fricker managed. Mrs Brown is a woman defined by her children and we see her care for Christy with ease, tenderness and worry in equal measures – something which, in another actress’ hands, would have nowhere near the same impact and compassion.
We should also give praise to the writer / director Jim Sheridan as this is a story that could have been told in a horrible Sunday-afternoon-TV-movie kind of way. Instead, Sheridan manages to avoid the unnecessary sentimentality you sometimes find in films of this nature and only shows us the simple truths and facts. This is wonderful as it allows us as an audience to think about the struggles that Christy Brown would have gone through without the sickly sweet emotion that would have overshadowed the excellent acting on display.
I’ll admit though, the film does have a couple of small niggles such as the plot which bounces around a little, leaving gaps that could have been explored. Also, the film does look a little dated now due to its low budget and the time and location in which it was filmed. However, those niggles are indeed small and are easily forgotten in the wake of Daniel Day-Lewis’ awe-inspiring display and a plot which gives you all you need without being overly corny.
While this film may sound quite heavy and at points depressing, trust me, it’s not. This work has a great deal of warmth and humour that people of all ages can appreciate and enjoy. Of course, many people will watch this film due to Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance and rightly so, as he is truly the star of the piece.
All in all, I would say that if you’re looking for something excellent from yesteryear or you’re simply a fan of Daniel Day-Lewis recent work, My Left Foot should be watched as it is something that will inspire and astound you in equal measure.
Ozzy Armstrong is a Stargate and Rocky superfan. Follow him on Twitter.