The Field (film)

The Field is a 1990 Irish drama film written and directed by Jim Sheridan and starring Richard Harris, John Hurt, Sean Bean, Brenda Fricker and Tom Berenger. It was adapted from John B. Keane's 1965 play of the same name. The film is set in the early 1930s in a very underdeveloped region of rural Ireland.

The Field
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJim Sheridan
Produced byNoel Pearson
Screenplay byJim Sheridan
Based onThe Field
by John B. Keane
Music byElmer Bernstein
CinematographyJack Conroy
Edited byJ. Patrick Duffner
Granada Television
Noel Pearson
Sovereign Pictures
Distributed byAvenue Pictures
Release date
  • 21 September 1990 (1990-09-21) (Ireland)
  • 20 December 1990 (1990-12-20) (New York City)
  • 22 February 1991 (1991-02-22) (United Kingdom)
Running time
107 minutes
BudgetIR£5 million
Box officeIR£1.6 million


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 "his" 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 Tadhg 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 acolyte 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 goes insane and 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 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 screenplay went through several revisions from the early drafts; some of which were precipitated by changes to the cast. For example with the role going to Sean McGinley, the role of the town priest was expanded, likewise the character of William Dee, an English resident in the town, was replaced by a sympathetic Irish American man named Peter, who was portrayed by Tom Berenger.

The film was shot in Galway and Mayo.[1]


The Field has a rating of 7.4 based on 4,936 reviews at IMDb.[2] Richard Harris received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations 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.[3]


  1. The Irish Filmography 1896-1996. Red Mountain Press (Dublin). 1996. p. 197.
  2. The Field reviews IMDb
  3. Detail of the 32p stamp Archived 24 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine. From Retrieved 15 July 2006.


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