Saturday 29 February 2020

1,001 Films: "My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown" (1989)

My Left Foot makes for a supple, surprisingly funny portrait of the artist as a young man in a wheelchair. The painter and writer Christy Brown was born in the Ireland of the 1950s, to a father who took his son's cerebral palsy as an affront to his masculinity (and, later, his authority); he emerged into an uncomprehending working-class community who saw fit to dismiss the boy as a useless eejit. With the exception of Brenda Fricker (tough and tender as Ma Brown) declaring "make your mark, Christy" as her child first comes to pick up a stick of chalk between his toes, Jim Sheridan's adaptation of Brown's autobiography doesn't overplay those moments where its subject overturned all those preconceptions. Rather than going down the maudlin or sentimental routes, My Left Foot approaches Brown's life via a number of alternative avenues, not least scenes to which Christy himself couldn't have been privy. Sheridan and co-writer Shane Connaughton work in a study of a loving family adapting to a very special set of needs, allowing Fricker to nail the challenging arc of having to express doubt, anger, relief and finally ambivalence at seeing her son being taken out of her hands by representatives of art and science. The mid-section is especially strong: a great scene with Christy getting drunk in a restaurant and berating his patrons, followed by a complex suicide attempt, Christy and his mum's amateurish efforts at bricklaying, and a bar brawl that that adopted son of Ireland, John Ford, would surely have adored. By and large, it may be one of those instances where the story is more remarkable than the quiet, self-contained graft of the filmmaking, but Sheridan demonstrates an immense, instructive patience around his hero, never cutting around Christy's travails, and always seeking the angle that best puts us in his position. The unflashy approach also has the considerable benefit of showcasing some flawless acting, first from Hugh O'Conor as the young Christy, and then Daniel Day-Lewis, whose Christy the elder is above all else a feat of compassionate observation, straining with every muscle to embody Brown's unfettered spirit as much as his tangled form.

My Left Foot is available on Blu-Ray through ITV Studios Home Entertainment, and to buy via Amazon Prime and the BFI Player.

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