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Richard Harris in his element
on 24 November 2007
For the first ten minutes or so, I was pretty sure I was going to hate The Field. Every Irish cliché in casting and plotting is present: burly men with short tempers and long memories of the Potato Famine, family secrets, dead sons, weak heirs and overbearing fathers, Brenda Fricker's silent tough-as-nails wife, Francis Tomelty's widow woman scorned for the crime of coming from another village, Jenny Conley's tinker's girl, even the village priest played by an actor out of Father Ted and a score full of fiddles and ondes martinets from Elmer Bernstein. And look, isn't that John Hurt with blacked out teeth playing the village eejit? It is that. There's no evil English landlord, but at times there's the very real threat that it's going to spin off into Victorian melodrama, especially with Richard Harris, an actor not exactly known for his subtlety at the time, in the lead as "The Bull," who'll do anything to prevent the field of the title that represents two generations of his family's blood, sweat and tears ending up in American Tom Berenger's hands and buried under concrete. Thank the lord an American didn't direct it or we'd be seeing the little people as well.
Yet despite the melodramatic bear-traps that litter John B. Keane's play, screenwriter/director Jim Sheridan manages to turn it into something increasingly compelling. While not the most cinematic of directors, he does bring something truly elemental to the mix as Harris' patriarch sets himself against Heaven and Earth to guarantee a poisoned legacy his son doesn't even want rather than face the prospect that his entire life, and the lives of his parents and a dead son have been wasted. Indeed, seen standing in front of a waterfall he's almost a force of nature himself, and one so defiantly proud that he's clearly heading for the mightiest of falls. The first couple of reels may be more than a little awkward, but it's worth persevering with, not least for Harris' powerful and controlled performance that avoids sinking into scenery-chewing and finds its greatest power in his silence.
The only extra is the trailer while the transfer on the UK DVD, disappointingly, is fullscreen.