1989

Film #402: My Left Foot (1989)

Over the course of this blog we’ve seen many actors and actresses who’ve won multiple awards for their performances. Currently Katherine Hepburn holds the most acting Oscars with four awards in her possession but the male actor who has the most wins in the Lead Actor category is a more surprising choice. The actor in question is Daniel Day-Lewis, an English actor who we first saw in the 1980s giving a comedic turn in A Room With a View. At the beginning of the 1990s we saw Day-Lewis break out as a big name and establish his reputation as a method actor. Two of Day-Lewis’ three Lead Actor nominations throughout the decade came through collaborations with Irish director Jim Sheridan the first of which was My Left Foot.

The film tells the story of Christy Brown, a young man who was born paralysed and could only use his left foot to communicate. The opening scenes of the film take place at a charity gala where Christy is placed in a holding room with a nurse who begins reading his autobiography. It’s this autobiography that the film is adapted from and the flashbacks represent various pieces from the book. The first part of Christy’s story deals with his attempts to get noticed by his family most of whom see him as nothing more than a worthless cripple. The only person who really seems to care about him is his mother and therefore she’s delighted when he spells out her name with chalk, using only his left foot to do so. From there Christy develops a love of painting and becomes a well-regarded artist in the community, even opening his own exhibition. But Christy’s main ambition in life appears to be finding somebody who loves him in more than just a platonic manner. The first example of this is when a local girl rejects a painting he created for her as a symbol of his love. Christy’s next meaningful relationship is with Dr. Eileen Cole, who helps improve his speech but who later breaks his heart when she reveals she’s in love with somebody else. Buoyed on by this rejection Christy uses his left foot to type out his autobiography which then sends the film full circle as nurse Mary Carr has the book in her hands. The final sequence is rather sweet as Christy, who has been in a holding room with Mary for the film’s duration, asks her out which she finally agrees to. After a number of depressing moments, Sheridan ends the film on a high by revealing that Christy and Mary were later married.

Depicting characters with physical deficiencies is a sure fire way to get nominated for or even win an Oscar. What Day-Lewis brought to the role of Christy was an element of believability and also the feel that this man wasn’t perfect just because he was crippled. Day-Lewis’ method acting extended to the fact that during filming he’d demand to be carried around in his wheelchair constantly. This allowed the actor to experience the embarrassments the character faced on a daily basis as crew members had to aid him across any number of electrical wires. Ironically the actor had to use his right foot for all of Christy’s paintings so a lot of the film was shot with special mirrors an effect that I didn’t notice at all. But Day-Lewis’ performance was one of many positive features that made My Left Foot so compelling. Brenda Fricker was absolutely astounding as Christy’s mother and for her tender portrayal of a loving matriarch she was awarded that year’s Best Supporting Actress award. Shane Connaughton and Sheridan’s screenplay brilliantly dilutes Christy’s autobiography into a well-paced story which covers all the major plot points successfully. Sheridan’s direction really focuses on the Brown household who are all crammed into a small abode but are happy nonetheless. For a biographical film, I found My Left Foot to be visually arresting especially when Sheridan was focusing on Christy’s artwork. Whilst My Left Foot isn’t a particularly grand film what it does do is tell the story of an underdog in a way that is compelling but never patronising. I’m glad that the film picked up two acting awards and feel that it probably should have won Best Picture as well.

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