This is the true story of Christy Brown (Daniel Day-Lewis), who was born with cerebral palsy (CP) into a poor Irish family in 1932 and overcame severe physical disability to become a famous artist and writer. In his early years Christy is severely disabled and disfigured--spastic, unable to speak, and close to quadriplegic, able to control only his left foot. His father (Ray McAnally) initially regards him as both retarded and sinful, but his mother (Brenda Fricker) faithfully and heroically cares for him.

Gradually, as he begins to speak, Christy's intelligence becomes apparent, his father accepts him into the family, and he trains himself to paint with his left foot. In his Dublin neighborhood, Christy is widely accepted, playing football goalie (by lying across the goal) and being made King of the Bonfire on All Hallows Eve, and he at least passively participates in an adolescent game of spin-the-bottle.

CP specialist Dr. Eileen Cole (Fiona Shaw) recognizes Christy's artistic talent and offers to train him. She brings him Shakespeare's "To be or not to be" soliloquy, gives him training in speech and movement control, and arranges for a one-man show of his artistic work. Christy falls in love with Dr. Cole and is crushed when she reveals that she is already engaged, and he tries unsuccessfully to slit his wrists.

Recovering emotionally from that disappointment, Christy in the years that follow sees more success as an artist and writes the autobiography on which this film is based--and, we are told in a closing title, he marries his nurse when he is about 40. (Christy Brown died in 1981 in his late forties.)


Daniel Day-Lewis gives a fine and astonishingly credible performance as the disabled adult Christy Brown. (I have seen reviews by viewers with CP who couldn't believe the actor did not have the disease.) The camera being a constant witness to CP's physical distortions and Christy's suffering, viewers are brought physically and emotionally close to Christy's very uncomfortable world, which gives the film great potential for conveying the realities of this condition.

This is a success story, but it retains a healthy amount of realism. Christy overcomes his limitations with grit and intelligence and with his warts showing, for, much as we root for him, he is emotionally unstable and likes his whiskey, both of which occasionally bring him trouble.

Clearly Christy's environment is a factor in his success. Without his mother's care he might never have had the chance to show his intelligence, and the generally accepting attitudes of his peers gave him a sense of a place in the community to anchor him. Self-image is crucial in dealing with deficit or loss, and it is a nice touch that the film several times shows Christy ambivalent about helpful offers from good people, as he seems not to want to expose himself to the potentially shattering failure of naturally inflated hopes.


Based on the book, My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown, by Christy Brown. Oscars for Day-Lewis (Best Actor) and Fricker (Best Supporting Actress); several other Oscar nominations and other awards.

Primary Source

HBO Home Video