Nationality: Irish. Born: Dublin, 6 February 1949. Education: Graduated from University College in Dublin; attended the New York University film school. Career: Worked as director-writer at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast and Abbey Theatre in Dublin, originated Children's Theatre Company in Dublin, and operated and wrote plays for the Project Arts Center, a Dublin alternative theater, 1970s-early 1980s; came to New York and became artistic director of the Irish Arts Center, 1982; made screen directorial debut with My Left Foot , 1989. Awards: Fringe Award for Best Play, Edinburgh Festival, 1983, for Spike in the First World War ; Academy Award nominations, Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, and Best
Film, New York Film Critics Circle, 1989, for My Left Foot ; Academy Award nominations, Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, 1993, for In the Name of the Father.
Films as Director and Screenwriter:
My Left Foot (co-sc)
In the Name of the Father (co-sc, + pr)
The Boxer (co-sc, + pr)
Into the West (Newell) (sc)
Some Mother's Son (co-sc, co-pr)
Agnes Brown (Huston) (pr)
Borstal Boy (Peter Sheridan) (exec pr); Catch the Sun (Carney) (pr)
By SHERIDAN: books—
My Left Foot , with Shane Connaughton, London, 1989.
Some Mother's Son: The Screenplay , with Terry George, New York, 1997.
By SHERIDAN: articles—
"The Rage of Innocence," an interview with Steve Grant, in Time Out (London), 2 February 1994.
"Ohne Gewalt siegen," an interview with Margret Köhler, in Film-Dienst (Cologne), 29 March 1994.
"Getting Past the Violence: An Interview with Jim Sheridan," with Gary Crowdus and O'Mara Leary, in Cineaste (New York), April 1998.
On SHERIDAN: articles—
Mueller, Matt, "Paternal Affairs," in Premiere (New York), December 1993.
Boynton, Graham, "London Burning," in Vanity Fair (New York), January 1994.
Giles, Jeff, "Fathers, Sons, and the IRA," in Newsweek (New York), 31 January 1994.
George, Terry, "Terry George on Jim Sheridan," in New Yorker , 21 March 1994.
Bland, E. L., "In the Name of the Truth," in Time (New York), 21 March 1994.
Grenier, Richard, "In the Name of the IRA," in Commentary (New York), April 1994.
O'Brien, C., "Patriot Games: The Distortions of In the Name of the Father ," in New Republic (Washington, D.C.), 9 May 1994.
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The cinema of Jim Sheridan is at once deeply personal, humanistic, and politically committed. His scenarios (taken from real-life as well as fiction) are heartrending, and his characters, all vividly realized, are individuals determined to triumph over seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Sheridan's films are rooted in the culture, history, and politics of his native Ireland and, commercially as well as creatively, he has been at the vanguard of his country's film industry. In 1990, The Field , which he directed and scripted, was the number one box-office champion in Ireland—the initial instance where an Irish film bested all foreign competition.
Perhaps Sheridan's best film to date is his first, My Left Foot , which movingly charts the triumph of an extraordinary individual. At his death in 1981, Christy Brown (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) was one of Ireland's foremost artistic and literary figures. Yet for Brown, it was no small achievement just to master the mundane. He was born with cerebral palsy, and he titled his autobiography My Left Foot because it was with this limb that he painted his pictures and wrote his stories. Sheridan's telling of Brown's life is so effective because he avoids mawkishness: by no means is Brown a cardboard cripple, a stereotypical figure to be pitied or feared. He is a complex character, with the wants, needs, and contradictions of any other man.
Like Sheridan's other heroes, Christy Brown is a man of the working class; his father was a Dublin bricklayer. My Left Foot reflects the importance of the familial bond as, without doubt, the love and support Brown receives from his family are crucial in enabling him to flourish as an artist.
If My Left Foot is the story of a man who transcends his physical limitations, The Field and In the Name of the Father tell of ordinary souls thrust into extraordinary situations. The Field , based on a play by John B. Keane, spotlights the plight of Bull McCabe (Richard Harris), an aging, charismatic peasant who has rented a field and devoted his life to developing it into a top-quality parcel of land. Even though he does not legally own the field, he has nurtured it as one would his own child. Then, he must contend with the news that the wealthy widow who owns the land plans to sell it at auction. The scenario pointedly reflects on Ireland's history and culture: it is set during the 1930s, with the memory of famine lingering in the minds of all the citizenry; and it offers a vivid portrait of traditional Irish village life. Furthermore, a focal point of the story is McCabe's conviction that he has come to own the land. This belief is distilled from Irish tribal laws which, to his mind, transcend contemporary law.
In the Name of the Father , based on Gerry Conlon's autobiographical book Proved Innocent , is an even more straightforward saga of blind injustice. It is the story of Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis), an unfocused young Belfast man who, along with others (including several of his equally guiltless family members), is arrested by the British authorities and falsely charged with the 1974 terrorist bombing of a London pub. Conlon and three others, who came to be known as the Guildford Four, spent over fifteen years in prison until their convictions were reversed. In the Name of the Father is provocative in its anti-British feel, as Conlon and company clearly are innocents who are railroaded by an unfeeling power structure which is unconcerned with smoking out the true culprits—and which withholds decisive evidence that would have exonerated the accused. The scenario reflects on the Irish-British conflict regarding the plight of Northern Ireland, while focusing on the manner in which the dissension adversely and tragically affects one Irish family. Beyond the politics of In the Name of the Father , the film is motivated by humanistic and familial concern. For years, Conlon shares a jail cell with his father, Giuseppe. Previously, the son had no admiration for his father, but as time passes they become united, resulting in a solid and poignant bond.
Like The Field , In the Name of the Father spotlights the individual's thirst for fairness. Gerry Conlon, like Bull McCabe, is keenly aware that he is a victim of injustice. In both cases, each man stubbornly persists in a single-minded pursuit of truth—just as Christy Brown perseveres in his determination to be viewed as a man without an affliction.
Sheridan's films are uniformly well acted. Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker (cast as Christy Brown's ever-supportive mother) won Oscars for their performances in My Left Foot. Richard Harris was nominated for The Field , while Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite (as Giuseppe Conlon), and Emma Thompson (as the lawyer who uncovers the chicanery on the part of the Crown) were cited for In the Name of the Father.