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The Field (film)

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The Field (film)

The Field
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jim Sheridan
Produced by Noel Pearson
Screenplay by Jim Sheridan
Based on The Field 
by John B. Keane
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography Jack Conroy
Edited by J. Patrick Duffner
  • Granada Television
  • Noel Pearson
  • Sovereign Pictures
Distributed by MGM
Release dates December 20, 1990
Running time 107 minutes
  • Ireland
  • United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $5 million
Box office $1,414,017

The Field is a 1990 drama film, adapted from John B. Keane's 1965 play of the same name. It was directed by Jim Sheridan and starred Richard Harris, John Hurt, Sean Bean, Brenda Fricker and Tom Berenger.


Bull McCabe, an Irish farmer, dumps a dead donkey in a lake. It transpires that McCabe's son, Tadhg, killed the donkey after discovering it had broken into the field the family has rented for generations. The donkey's owner blames Bull McCabe for the death and demands "blood money".

McCabe has a deep attachment to the rented field, which his family has cultivated and improved, from barren to now very productive, over a number of generations. The field's owner is a widow who, around the time of the 10th anniversary of the death of her husband, decides to sell the field. She decides to sell the field by public auction rather than to McCabe directly. Unknown to McCabe. Tadhg has been harassing the widow for years, causing her to believe that McCabe is behind the harassment in order to force her into a sale. On hearing there will be an auction McCabe goes to the village pub and announces that nobody would dare bid against him for "my field".

McCabe has constant doubts about Tadhg's ability to safeguard the field. His older son, Seamie, committed suicide when he was 13. McCabe blames himself for the death, as he told Seamie the field could only support one family, and that Tadhg would have to emigrate when he grew up. McCabe and his wife have not spoken in the 18 years since the death.

Peter, an American whose ancestors are from the area, arrives in the village. He has plans to build a hydro-electric plant in the area and quarry stone for new roads. Central to his plans is McCabe's field. At the auction Peter repeatedly out-bids McCabe, forcing the price up to 80 pounds, 30 pounds more than what McCabe can afford. Seeing the bidding war the widow stops the auction and insists there would be a new auction, with a reserve price of 100 pounds. Knowing he cannot out bid Peter and seeing his cattle thrown off the field, McCabe goes to the rectory to confront Peter, and the parish priest who has been supporting him. McCabe now discovers Tadhg's actions, expelling him from the meeting, and goes on to explain his deep attachment to the field. This includes the death of his mother while saving hay. Peter refuses to back down from his plans. In a desperate last attempt McCabe and Tadhg confront Peter at a waterfall he has just purchased, the night before the second auction. When Tadgh fails to defeat Peter in a fight, McCabe himself intervenes and beats both men in a rage. Peter is killed, and upon realising this, McCabe has a mental break. He confuses Peter with his dead son Seamie. Tadhg flees to the Irish Traveller woman he has fallen for. He tells her he has killed Peter, and they make plans to run off together. McCabe's close friend Bird O'Donnell bids on behalf of McCabe and secures the field for 101 pounds at the second auction, unopposed.

A Traveller boy spots the dead donkey floating in the lake and a crane is brought in to recover it. It inadvertently recovers the corpse of Peter. At the same time Tadhg comes home to tell his father he is leaving with the Traveller's daughter and says he never wanted the field. The Parish priest arrives to confront McCabe about the discovery of Peter. Having lost his son and with the corpse discovered, McCabe insanely herds his cattle to the cliffs. Bird informs Tadhg that his father has gone mad. Tadhg rushes to stop his father but gets driven over the cliff by the herd of cattle and is killed. Further maddened with grief, McCabe attempts to drive the waves back from his dead son, while Tadhg's mother and the Traveller's daughter sob on the clifftop.


The Field starred Richard Harris as Bull McCabe, Sean Bean as Bull's son Tadhg, Brenda Fricker as Bull's wife Maggie, and John Hurt as Bird O'Donnell. Adaptations included changes to the cast; the town priest received an expanded role as Father Liam McDermot, played by Sean McGinley, and English resident William Dee is replaced by the sympathetic Irish American Peter, played by Tom Berenger.[1]

Filmed on location in Aasleigh and Leenane, County Galway, Ireland.

In the film, the auctioneer's role is considerably reduced from the original play, while new additions include a family of Irish Travellers, despised by Bull McCabe for having lost their connection to the land. The ending was also changed for the film.


The Field was released to mixed reviews, with critics giving it generally negative reviews. It has been favourably reviewed by the public though.[2] It was a commercial failure, failing to recover its costs.[3] However, Harris received an Academy Award and a Golden Globe nomination for his performance.

In 1996 An Post, the Irish Post Office, issued a set of postage stamps to commemorate the centenary of Irish cinema; the 32p stamp featured an image from The Field of actors Harris, Bean, and Hurt standing against the backdrop of Killary Harbour.[4]


  1. ^ The Irish Filmography 1896-1996; Red Mountain Press (Dublin); 1996. Page 197
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^
  4. ^ Detail of the 32p stamp. From Retrieved July 15, 2006.


  • "John B Keane". Retrieved March 17, 2007.

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