Arthur Flynn remembers the classic film based on the life of Christy Brown
A project that obsessed theatre producer Noel Pearson for many years was to bring the life of the disabled Dublin writer, Christy Brown, who could write and paint with his left foot, to the screen.
He realised it would be a tough unenviable project but persevered.
Pearson set about commissioning a script and assigned a leading Dublin theatre director, Jim Sheridan and Shane Connaughton the task.
While working on the script based on Christy’s book, My Left Foot, Sheridan became desperate to direct it.
He had never directed a film before, but pleaded with Pearson.
Pearson had enough confidence in him and put him in charge of the £1.7 million film.
The film was a co-production of a number of companies including Granada Films, Miramax Films, Ferndale Films and Radio Telefis Eireann.
The central role was played by Daniel Day-Lewis who spent months in preparation and remained in character throughout the entire production, impressing cast and crew by his absorption in the part.
Daniel was so committed to the role that he acted out the opening scene, as we see it in the film, on the first take.
Hugh O’Conor played Christy as a boy, with Ray McAnally and Brenda Fricker as his parents.
Other members of the cast included Ruth McCabe as Mary, Fiona Shaw as Dr. Eileen Crow, Emma MacLiam as Benny and Cyril Cusack as Lord Castlewelland.
Pearson and Sheridan lined up a strong production team headed by Jack Conroy as cinematographer, J. Patrick Duffner as Editor and musical score by the Oscar winning Elmer Bernstein.
The film was a bio-drama about Christy Brown, the man who was born a spastic quadriplegic into a large, poor Irish family living in a Dublin slum.
One day when he is ten Christy uses his left foot to write the word ‘mother’ on the floor with a piece of chalk. His mother, Mrs Brown, recognises the intelligence and humanity in the lad everyone else regards as a vegetable.
Eventually, with guidance, Christy matures into a cantankerous writer and artist who uses his only functional limb, his left foot, to write and paint with. He also meets a nurse name Mary Carr, the love of his life who appreciates his talents.
The film intercut flashbacks of his formative years in the squashed house and playing on the streets of Dublin with scenes at a stately home, Kilruddery House, the home of Lord Castlewelland.
My Left Foot was shot in seven weeks in Ardmore Studios, Bray, Co. Wicklow and on location mainly in the Bray area. Many of the scenes wee filmed through a mirror, as Day-Lewis could only manipulate his right foot to perform the actions seen in the film.
He was so much into character that he broke two ribs during filming from assuming the hunched over position in his wheelchair for weeks of filming. He also refused to come out of character.
On visits to the canteen, other people would have to assist him with food. He insisted on remaining in his wheelchair during takes.
The film was very well received worldwide by critics and audiences alike.
Miramax saw the potential of the film and took over worldwide distribution.
They spent over three times the film production budget on its publicity campaign to get the film notices for Oscar nomination.
Their faith paid off. Day-Lewis was praised for his portrayal of Brown. One critic wrote: ‘the triumph of an actor who did not act but became his character’. My Left Foot earned him his first Academy Award for Best Actor.
Brenda Fricker also won an Oscar for Best Supporting Role for her role of Mrs Brown.
Jim Sheridan’s My Left Foot is a riveting unsentimental bio-drama about Christy Brown, the man who was born with cerebral Palsy in a Dublin slum and became an artist and write of note.
Daniel Day-Lewis and Jim Sheridan were successfully reunited again for two other Irish based films – In the Name of the Father and The Boxer. Day-Lewis gave outstanding performances in both films.
Today Daniel Day-Lewis, son of the poet Cecil Day-Lewis, is one of the world’s best and most versatile actors and has picked up another Oscar for his lead role in Lincoln. He lives in Annamoe, County Wicklow.