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'He wanted Marlon Brando to play him': Christy Brown and the movie that made history

Its premise was unusual, its hero untypical but 30 years ago the minimally budgeted Irish film 'My Left Foot' won two Oscars. Rose Mary Roche tells the extraordinary story of the movie and that Oscar night

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Rising son: Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker in My Left Foot.

Rising son: Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker in My Left Foot.

Writing history: Christy Brown signs the register during his wedding ceremony at Kildare St Registry Office in 1972. Photo: Tom Burke

Writing history: Christy Brown signs the register during his wedding ceremony at Kildare St Registry Office in 1972. Photo: Tom Burke

Statuesque figure: Daniel Day-Lewis is interviewed on the red carpet prior to the 1990 Academy Awards ceremony. Photo: Getty Images

Statuesque figure: Daniel Day-Lewis is interviewed on the red carpet prior to the 1990 Academy Awards ceremony. Photo: Getty Images

Sygma via Getty Images

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Rising son: Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker in My Left Foot.

On March 26, 1990, a small independent Irish film, My Left Foot won two Academy Awards with actors Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker. This success was greeted with shock, jubilation and intense excitement in Ireland. Thirty years later those emotions have faded, but the implications of those Oscars for Irish film remain immense. Noel Pearson, who had produced the film without Government funding, had managed to revive interest in a dormant Irish film industry with an untypical hero and story.

Christy Brown was a working-class artist and writer in a wheelchair, who suffered from cerebral palsy, painted and wrote with his left foot and had self-described as "a queer crooked little fellow" in his memoir. The heroic nature of Christy's and his mother's bond in challenging society's prejudice and his physical limitations to achieve artistic expression and success proved to be a universally appealing story.

Like its subject, the story of the genesis of My Left Foot is a tale of courage in the face of adversity. That a tiny, independent Irish production company could achieve unprecedented critical and commercial success internationally with its first feature film remains unique. The success of My Left Foot re-invented and re-invigorated Irish film and launched the modern industry that thrives today. That all this success was achieved on a budget of £1.7M, just adds to the David and Goliath nature of the story. The determination that fuelled the film is reminiscent of Christy's own philosophy to "look forward, don't look back and keep on fighting."