The Field (Jim Sheridan, 1991)

"Tis my field. Nama and the IMF can feck off."
What’s it about? Set in 1920s Ireland, the story centres on the Bull McCabe, a tenant farmer who has invested years of back-breaking work tending a rented field. When the field is put up for auction, it brings him into conflict with an outsider whose disrespectful plans for the field go against the ‘law of the land’. It doesn’t end happily.

Is it any good? The main strength of this film is an immense central performance from Richard Harris. Sporting one of the Great Movie Beards, Harris gained his second Best Actor Oscar nomination as the raging, domineering farmer so blindly infatuated with the titular piece of land that everyone around him suffers for his obsession. It is a magnificent piece of acting, anchoring the entire film and it is a testament to Harris’ skills that such a monstrous character can still evoke empathy and sympathy in the viewer, despite his actions.

Around Harris, a host of familiar faces give good support. Sean Bean is solid, if a little too pretty, as the Bull’s beleaguered son, Tadgh; Brenda Fricker reprises her stoic, wifely role from My Left Foot and John Hurt has fun with the village idiot role, whilst Tom Berenger is well cast as the slick American whose disrespect for the land disrupts the natural order of this desolate community. As befits the story, Sheridan photographs the wild beauty of Connemara in gloomy browns and greens, emphasising the bleakness of the tale and the setting. Only the field itself appears bright, as we see it through the blinkered eyes of the Bull.

Anything else I should know? The Irish may have a reputation for being a fun-loving party people, but they’re also quite partial to sentimentality, suffering and downright misery. They particularly invest a lot of emotion in their attachment to the ‘land’, perhaps understandably given their traditional dependence upon it for simple existence, as well as the historical injustices forced upon them as they were driven from their homelands by the twin evils of famine and the English. Indeed, even in these enlightened times, there is many an Irish family who has fallen out in a dispute over land ownership and the property bubble which precipitated the demise of the Celtic Tiger was in part driven by the desire to own a patch to call your own. There you go – bit of an Irish psychology, history and economic lesson for you – not just a movie blog, you know.

What does the Fonz think? If you don’t find this a compelling and tragic watch, then you’re as emotionally stunted as the Bull McCabe. Or maybe just not Irish enough.

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