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Sheridan, Jim (1949-)

Director, Writer, Producer

Main image of Sheridan, Jim (1949-)

Producer, director, writer, actor, Jim Sheridan, was a prominent figure of the New Wave of Irish film-making in the 1990s. The characteristics that define that movement define Sheridan's film-making itself - an acceptance, if not affection for, the forms and contents of mainstream genre film-making, and a simultaneous urge to shatter these norms by subtextual examination of specifically Irish issues. In short, a balance between mainstream entertainment and social statement, a use of personalised - often Oedipal - drama to make political critiques.

Born in Dublin in 1949, Sheridan attended University College Dublin in 1972, the year in which he married and started a family. He studied at the Abbey School of Acting, and co-founded Dublin's Project Theatre. Moving to New York in 1981, he became Director of the Irish Arts Centre.

Returning to Ireland, Sheridan made his first feature, My Left Foot (1989), based on the autobiographical novel by disabled Dublin working-class painter and writer, Christy Brown. Mixing Hollywood biopic elements with an examination of social contradictions - disability and ability, art and commerce, conflicting class perspectives - it was a huge success, and Daniel Day Lewis and Brenda Fricker won Oscars for their performances.

Sheridan's adaptation of John B. Keane's rural play, The Field, featured an intense Richard Harris as Bull McCabe, a Famine-obsessed farmer who has spent his life cultivating a desolate field owned by a local landlady. Brilliant at times, The Field (1990) was marred by shifting the action of the play back to the 1930s, replacing Keane's socialist critique of Ireland's '60s capitalism with a vague articulation of the influence of the Famine on contemporary Ireland.

In 1993, Sheridan and Arthur Lappin established the company, Hell's Kitchen, and made In the Name of the Father, adapted by Sheridan and former political prisoner Terry George from Gerry Conlon's autobiography, Proved Innocent. The film deals with events surrounding the wrongful imprisonment of Conlon and others for the IRA bombing of a Guildford pub in 1974. Combining powerful drama with a high voltage flow of factual information, it forcefully exposes corruption within the British legal system and remains Sheridan's most skilful and contentious work.

In 1997, Sheridan produced and co-wrote Some Mother's Son, a political drama focusing on two mothers whose sons are involved in the 1981 IRA Hunger Strikes, which was directed by Terry George. Sheridan's The Boxer reunited him with Daniel Day Lewis (who had played Gerry Conlon) in a film which examines changing Republican attitudes in the wake of the Belfast Agreement. Danny Flynn, ex-boxer, ex-IRA prisoner, attempts to redress his past by running a non-sectarian boxing club in Belfast. Though critically well-received, the film's polemics lacked the force of Sheridan's best work.

Sheridan has since co-produced Agnes Brown (d. Anjelica Huston, 1999), On the Edge (d. John Carney, 2000), and Bloody Sunday (d. Paul Greengrass, 2002). In America (2003), written and directed by Sheridan, relates his family's experience in New York in the '80s.

Barton, Ruth. Jim Sheridan, (Dublin: Liffey Press, 2002) McLoone, Martin. "In the Name of the Father", Cineaste, Vol XX, No 4, pp 44-7. 1994
Sheridan, Jim. "Words, Pictures, and Buildings", Film Base News, No 12, April/May, pp 10-12. 1989

Eugene Finn, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

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