As Daniel Day-Lewis becomes ‘Sir’, we list the three-time Oscar winner’s five greatest performances.
With this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List came the announcement that actor Daniel Day-Lewis has been recognised with a knighthood. Sir Daniel has been rewarded for his services to drama, after he became the first man to win three Best Actor Oscars in 2013. The 57-year-old is widely considered the greatest actor alive amongst his peers, and so in recognition of his achievements on screen, here is a list of Daniel Day-Lewis’s five best performances.
Christy Brown – My Left Foot
Day-Lewis’s first Best Actor Oscar win came in 1990, for his performance as My Left Foot’s Christy Brown, a sufferer of cerebral palsy who, through the use of his only controllable limb, forged a career as a revered artist. Brown’s physical ticks and rigid mannerisms are expertly portrayed by Day-Lewis, but his real triumph lies in bringing both Christy’s despair and joy to life in equal measure. Day-Lewis also succeeds in conveying the Irishman’s impaired speech, whilst still giving a riveting and whole portrayal.
Gerry Conlon – In the Name of the Father
Reuniting with My Left Foot director Jim Sheridan for the second time led to Day-Lewis picking up a second Oscar nomination. Gerry Conlon is coerced into confessing to an IRA bombing he did not commit, leading to the imprisonment of his father as well as himself. Conlon marks Day Lewis’s most emotionally raw performance as a man seeking and hoping for justice. He is one half of a formidable acting duo alongside Pete Postlethwaite, who provides stirring work as his father. The burning passion of the final courtroom scene fully demonstrates the determination embedded in the character and the commitment of Day-Lewis.
Bill ‘the Butcher’ Cutting – Gangs of New York
He’s well known for his method acting and for remaining in character for the duration of a film’s shoot. Spare a thought, then, for Daniel Day-Lewis’s co-stars during the filming of Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, as he reportedly would sharpen his knives during lunch breaks. Day-Lewis is utterly terrifying as Bill the Butcher, the actor peering into the darkest depths of human nature. His intensity as an actor is most evident during his brutal head-butting of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Amsterdam, and throughout the monologue he delivers draped in a bloody Stars and Stripes.
Daniel Plainview – There Will Be Blood
Day-Lewis has always been highly selective with the roles he chooses and admits he almost didn’t accept the lead in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. In a career littered with sublime performances, his bravura turn as Daniel Plainview may be his finest. Plainview isn’t a run of the mill villain, but is really a man driven by greed and his unstoppable quest for power. No superlative can do justice to Day-Lewis’s acting during the public confession of abandoning his own son, his throaty voice growling into a barking force of nature. The Academy simply had no choice but to hand the Best Actor statuette to him for a second time.
President Abraham Lincoln – Lincoln
There was really only one actor who possessed the screen presence and gravitas to play the 16th President of the United States in Steven Spielberg’s stirring Lincoln biopic. Examining the latter stages of Honest Abe’s life by focusing on the continuing Civil War, the president struggles and fights with his own cabinet on the decision to abolish slavery. Day-Lewis completely transforms – he gives Lincoln an ungainly posture and wooden gait. His voice is wry and reedy. He is a pensive and elusive figure. This is not the Day-Lewis we have seen before, or the Lincoln we expect, but it ensures that the daunting balancing act between the man and the myth is beautifully maintained.
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Featured image: Paramount Vantage/Miramax Films
Inset images: Granada Films; Universal; Miramax; Paramount Vantage/Miramax Films; 20th Century Fox