You may not know director Jim Sheridan by name. But you almost certainly know his work. He’s worked with Daniel Day-Lewis three times, more than any other director. Indeed, it was under his direction that Day-Lewis scored his breakout Oscar with the seminal My Left Foot. Many eons ago, in high school, In the Name of the Father left such an impression that when I saw Imprint was releasing a boxset of Sheridan’s work, I reached out for a review copy that was kindly supplied. The rest of the films live up to that standard, and the collection is worth owning for any film fan. It follows Imprint’s typical M.O. — top-shelf presentation of worthy films that might fly under other boutique labels’ radars and a full load of contemporary extras.
All three of Sheridan’s collaborations with Day-Lewis are included here, all touching on Irish life in some manner.
The first film is 1989’s My Left Foot. Based on the autobiography of Christy Brown, My Left Foot follows Christy as a man growing up with cerebral palsy in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. It’s so named for the fact that Christy could only move his left foot and used it to become an acclaimed painter and author. The film was a massive success, making $14 million off a 600,000-pound budget. It also saw Day-Lewis win his first Oscar for Best Actor and Brenda Fricker win Best Supporting Actress. It was nominated for Best Picture and, in an Academy retrospective, most voters agreed if they could redo the 62nd Academy Awards, they would give Best Picture to My Left Foot rather than Driving Miss Daisy. What Day-Lewis and Sheridan achieve here is fairly incredible, dramatising Christy’s live, and acknowledging his pain and suffering, without being overly maudlin or patronising. They express the uniqueness of Christy’s struggles while also realizing they are just struggles; Christy himself is portrayed as a human with faults and flaws in love and life. Fricker is also incredible as Christy’s mother, an acting feat that feels like we’re watching a real person. It’s a moving, humanist experience that energises the soul, rightfully recognized for its quality. Imprint’s 1080p transfer is crisp, and extras include two new commentaries — one from Sheridan and another from critic Bryan Reesman. It’s a definitive release of a certified classic.
The second film, and undoubtedly least-known in the collection, is 1990’s The Field. The premise of this terrific little film with Richard Harris, John Hurt, Ruth McCabe, Fricker and a young Sean Bean might seem dull, but it’s arresting in execution and performance. Harris plays “Bull” McCabe, an older Irish man whose family has farmed a field for generations and now has the chance to actually own the field. However, an American investor with deeper pockets has his eyes on the field, too. It’s a very dark film that serves as a story of obsession and how traditions can strangle communities and the people who inhabit them, as well as a commentary on Irish land and class politics. It’s also the most insularly Irish of the set, with Sheridan going so far as to say in special features that Americans simply don’t get The Field because they lack a similarly historical relationship to land. Imprint’s extras can help viewers appreciate that context, though, with a new audio commentary and brand-new making-of documentary. That documentary highlights how The Field recharged Harris’s then-stalling career, even netting him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. You can very clearly enjoy McCabe’s absolute misery in 1080p as well. Of all the films in the set, The Field is certainly the most underseen, and it’s great that Imprint has given it the same profile as other films in the set.
Rewatching In the Name Of the Father was not a disappointment. Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite and Emma Thompson all received Oscar nominations for their roles. Sheridan also received a Best Director nomination, and the film was nominated for Best Picture. The film follows the real-life 1974 arrest, and subsequent framing and imprisonment, of Gerry Conlan (Day-Lewis) and three friends after British police demanded accountability and results following the Provisional Irish Republican Army’s Guildford pub bombing. Conlan’s entire family was charged to some degree or another with the bomb-making conspiracy, and he ended up jailed alongside his father (Postlethwaite) in a maximum-security prison.
Conlan spent 15 years in prison before he and his fellow prisoners were exonerated; Thompson plays his passionate attorney. The story is more shocking and upsetting for its rooting in reality. Day-Lewis is in typically fine form as Conla, able to bottle and express all the rage, pain, shock and other emotions Conlan endures as he undergoes and tries to survive his horrific ordeal; Postlethwaite is wonderful as his father, Giuseppe, bringing warmth and gravity that makes the story all the more heartbreaking. Sheridan’s direction here is fantastic, channeling individual pain and frustration into appropriate outrage and disgust at the travesty of justice that befell those in the story. It’s not an easy thing to do, but Sheridan finds crucial human elements that let viewers remain empathetic with our leads rather than simply preaching; the richness of the humanity Sheridan expresses makes the story all the more devastating. Along with the 1080p remastering, Imprint has included archival interviews, a new interview with Sheridan, and a new audio commentary with Reesman. It’s the kind of film few studios make any longer, or at least this well, and it’s great that Sheridan’s masterpiece has received the presentation it deserves.
The final film in the set is The Boxer, a 1997 film I’d not heard of before despite it featuring Day-Lewis and Emily Watson. Unlike Day-Lewis and Sheridan’s previous collaborations, it did not fare well at the box office. It follows Day-Lewis as former IRA member Danny Flynn, who is released to Belfast after 14 years just as peace talks are taking place. Sheridan looks at the aftermath of the Troubles and those caught in the middle. If anything, The Boxer codifies Sheridan’s position, alluded to during In the Name of the Father — distrustful and unconvinced of IRA purists who see their cause as a means to bully and control others as little more than criminals, but passionately in favor of Irish people caught in the crossfire between the IRA and British forces. In attempting to rebuild his life, Flynn finds trouble negotiating various sectarian divisions still rife in Belfast all while falling for Maggie (Watson), a woman he simply cannot love due to her IRA connections. Sheridan is impressively nuanced in his handling of the very sensitive topic, and Day-Lewis and Watson impress, although for me, the standout surprise was Ken Stott as Danny’s trainer, Ike. It rounds out a rock-solid collection worthy of a place in any film buff’s library.