- 02 Feb 18
With Daniel Day-Lewis currently lighting up screens once again in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Oscar-nominated Phantom Thread, Roe McDermott looks at five of his greatest performances.
Among our reviews this fortnight is Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson’s stunning and unnerving tale of male artistry and cruelty. Starring the incomparable Daniel Day-Lewis, the film marks the Irish actor’s final cinematic role, as he is retiring. We take a brief look back at a selection of his greatest roles, and remember how his talent transformed cinema as we know it.
A Room With A View (1985)
For many viewers, this sumptuous and Oscar-winning period romance was their introduction to Day-Lewis, and what an auspicious beginning. The actor is at his most brilliantly snivelling and impeccably unpleasant as Cecil Vyse, the priggish fiancé of Helena Bonham Carter’s heroine. Though it would have been easy for Day-Lewis to play up the arrogance of this snobbish character, he avoids cliché and manages to make Cecil multi-faceted in his loathsomeness. While he is now known for his intensity, A Room With A View shows how the actor’s skills can shine through subtlety.
My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
Hitting American cinemas at the same time as A Room With A View, Day-Lewis’ role as a bleached-blonde street punk who undergoes a huge transformation showed critics just how special this new actor was. He plays a man whose right-wing fascist past gives way to a gay epiphany. It’s a tricky part that Day-Lewis nails with spiky wit and sensitive eroticism, and his performance is central to this extremely important film about the political climate of 1980s Britain, homosexuality and race.
My Left Foot (1989)
The film that scored the Day-Lewis his first Best Actor Oscar nomination, My Left Foot remains one of the all-time best screen depictions of a person suffering with a physical disability – and, it could be argued, is simply one of cinema’s greatest performances. Day-Lewis plays the cerebral palsy-affected artist Christy Brown, and it’s now hard to believe that his Oscar win was anything other than a sure thing (the ’89 Best Actor gong was considered a tight race between Day-Lewis and Tom Cruise in Born On The Fourth Of July). With hindsight, it’s clear just how astonishing Day-Lewis’s performance is, as he combines transformative technique with lacerating inner anguish.
In The Name Of The Father (1993)
Jim Sheridan’s 1993 film earned Day-Lewis an Oscar nomination for his intense, furious turn as Gerry Conlon, in an exceptional dramatisation of the 1974 Guildford pub bombings. Playing the Belfast native falsely convicted of being an IRA bomber, Day-Lewis’ performance is full of passion and emotional commitment. Though the film caused controversy for taking some factual liberties, it paints a powerful portrait of the characters involved in this historic trial. Day-Lewis captures every resilient, vulnerable and determined note of his character, while Pete Postlethwaite and Emma Thompson are also sublime.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s haunting period drama gave Day-Lewis the role of a lifetime. Playing the ferocious oil prospector Daniel Plainview, Day-Lewis’ performance is perfectly calibrated between eerie calm and explosive anger, culminating in that now iconic, demented cry of “I drink your milkshake!” The moment that spawned a thousand memes and rightly won Day-Lewis his second Best Actor Oscar, it is simply one of the best screen performances of the 21st century.
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