The Irish Film Institute (IFI) has just finished a celebratory event featuring highlights from Sheridan’s key works, so we will take a look at the six-time Academy Award nominee’s career and the impact he has made on Irish and international cinema.
Born in Dublin in 1949, Jim Sheridan started out as a playwright before moving onto filmmaking. In 1979 Sheridan wrote two plays. The first, an Irish beggar's opera called "The Ha'penny Place", was staged in the Project Arts Centre, and the second, a piece of theatre called "The Last Post".
But it wasn’t until 1989 when My Left Foot was made that his global reputation was established and Irish cinema was put on the international map. Sheridan directed and co-wrote the screenplay, which tells the true story of Christy Brown, an Irishman born with cerebral palsy, who could control only his left foot. Brown went on to become a writer and artist.
It received five Academy Award nominations: Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Picture including wins for Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker.
After this initial success, Sheridan went on to write and direct The Field in 1990. It was based on John B. Keane’s stage play, with our own Richard Harris as an unforgettable Bull McCabe. Harris received an Oscar nomination for his role and the play is still performed around the world today.
Interestingly, and for those who don’t know, In 1996 An Post issued a set of postage stamps to commemorate the centenary of Irish cinema; the 32p stamp featured an image from The Field of actors Harris, Bean, and Hurt standing against the backdrop of Killary Harbour.
In the Name of the Father was made three years later. The fictionalised account of the miscarriage of justice that led to the Guildford Four’s wrongful imprisonment was a mainstream international hit, picking up seven Academy Award nominations including Best Director and Best Picture. In the Name of the Father was the start of a trio of films that dealt with the Troubles including The Boxer and Some Mother’s Son (directed by Terry George, but produced by Sheridan).
In 2003, he released the semi-autobiographical In America, which tells the story of a family of Irish immigrants trying to succeed in New York. Written with his daughters and shot in the aftermath of 9/11, In America is a story about coming to terms with bereavement and one that implicitly acknowledges the childhood death of Sheridan’s brother Frankie, yet is heart-warming, moving and my personal favourite Sheridan film to date. The film was a critical and commercial success and has gone on to become the most successful Sheridan film of the last ten years. The film received a wealth of award nominations including nominations for three Academy Awards including Best Original Screenplay for Sheridan, Best Actress for Samantha Morton and Best Supporting Actor for Djimon Hounsou.
Sheridan’s most recent film is Brothers made in 2009. The film is based on Susanne Bier's 2004 Danish film Brødre. It tells the story of Sam and Tommy Cahill. After Sam goes missing in Afghanistan, Tommy tries to comfort his older brothers wife and children as they try to adjust to life without him. The film stars Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Natalie Portman and opened to positive reviews at the box office.
Upcoming projects include Dreamhouse, set for release in September this year. He is also connected with the upcoming film adaptation of Artemis Fowl and is rumored to have written the screenplay and been asked to direct it. On the basis of his previous work and with these upcoming projects, there is little doubt that Sheridan will remain one of Ireland’s leading filmmakers for many years to come.