An Irish King Lear - Richard Harris is a farmer obsessed with the ownership of a disputed plot of land, which leads to bloodshed and awful retribution.
Initially, Jim Sheridan's follow-up to last year's surprise wonder My Left Foot looks deceptively and alarmingly like old Hollywood's notion of Oirish whimsy. British thespians - notably John Hurt with blackened teeth as the village idiot - antic about an emerald countryside being madly colourful and tuck into some toothsome stews in quaint cottages; villagers, tinkers and a red-haired temptress brawl outside the pub while the naive, ineffectual priest wrings his hands and rolls his eyes to heaven. Inexorably, however, The Field builds into a mesmerising tragedy of appalling dimensions and remarkable power.
Richard Harris - who'd have thought he had it left in him? - turns in an astonishing performance, restrained, frightening and affecting to the core as Bull McCabe, a farmer whose obsession with ownership of a disputed piece of land leads to bloodshed and most awful retribution. This is an Irish King Lear, with old wrongs, secrets and griefs gradually revealed, longings, jealousies and greeds passed down from one generation to the next. Sheridan's screenplay (from the play by John B. Keane) touches Irish history, blood, sweat and class and inspires fine work from everyone onscreen, including Tom Berenger as the rich Irish-American intruder "looking for his roots", Brenda Fricker as the wife McCabe hasn't touched or spoken to in 18 years, and Frances Tomelty as the Anglo-Irish widow who owns the three acres McCabe would have.
Beautifully made, the 30s period dressing, photography and Elmer Bernstein score mark this as a thoroughly distinguished production, in every way as gripping and compulsive as that other great drama of the land, Jean De Florette. High praise indeed.