Hugh O'Conor did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Christy Brown in My Left Foot.
O'Conor of course has a set restriction, technically even more severe than his successor in the part since at this point Christy cannot even speak, due to he fact that he must maintain Christy's impairment so he also must portray the mind in the body. O'Conor does so much with his eyes in the role as he makes it rather clear that Christy is not the simpleton so many seem to take him for. A prevailing emotion that O'Conor so well expresses in his performance is the frustrations in Christy due to his forced position in life. O'Conor is interesting though in that he does not portray this in a downtrodden way as a sort of sadness. Instead O'Conor portrays an actual anger in Christy as he must basically fight against himself in order to be recognized, and rather than wanting people to feel sorry for him, he wants them not to be. O'Conor even manages to bring a little humor in part as he conveys Christy's intelligence in his expressions of a certain exasperation Christy feels when he is treated as a simpleton, particularly when a neighbor is slowly telling him letters that's he's definitely well aware of.
O'Conor realizes the spark that will motivate Christy's artistic endeavors later in life, in these early scenes as he's simply just trying to tell people he can think for himself. Although he is unable to say whole words O'Conor's delivery of the grunts of sorts that Christy is able to get out past his physical restrictions is no that of a some random noise. O'Conor brings the intensity of someone fighting to speak, he's trying to vocalize but is just unable able to do it. The moment where Christy finally proves his intelligence to his family by taking chalk with his left foot to write out mother on the floor is simply an amazing scene, and O'Conor's performance contributes greatly to this. O'Conor portrays so well the considerable physical effort it takes for Christy to do this, but also expresses the relief and satisfaction in Christy when he finishes. O'Conor whole work here is a wonderful depiction of Christy initial struggle for recognition. It does stand out on his own completely, but it does more than that. In some biography films there is a bit of disconnect between the child actor we begin with before we get to the adult actor, as though they are almost just wasting time before we really get to know the character. That is not the case here. Even though its an extreme jump in years when Daniel Day-Lewis takes over for O'Conor, there is nothing lost between the performances. O'Conor's performance matches Daniel Day-Lewis's performance, and Day-Lewis's matches O'Conor's. There is a clear progression between the two which is a marvel to behold.
When Christy is a boy his father, much like everyone other than sort of his mother, is under the belief that Christy's mind is disabled as well. McAnally carefully does not portray any contempt in Paddy towards his son at this time, in fact there is even a certain protective quality McAnally suggests whenever he feels that Christy is being mistreated or in a position where he could be potentially mocked. Nevertheless though due to expecting nothing from him he does not exactly pay his son any extra attention. This is until that "mother" scene I referred to in O'Conor's review. Again it is amazing scene which is contributed greatly by O'Conor's, Fricker's, and McAnally's performances. What I love is how McAnally differs Fricker's work. Fricker is very moving in her depiction of Christy's mother's being vindicated for her faith, but McAnally is just moving in his depiction of Paddy's reaction. Although he certainly doubted his son before McAnally is outstanding as he conveys the pride in Paddy in seeing his son's intellect. McAnally is particularly great in the way he shows Paddy being moved to tears, and almost has to move to an over joyous celebration in order to stop himself from breaking down completely.
The thankless nature comes a bit as the film continues just because McAnally gets less time than Fricker, but he certainly still keeps a strong presence throughout the proceedings. McAnally also does have to deal with less endearing side. What's special about this performance is that McAnally brings depth to the rather uncouth side of Paddy. McAnally does not hold back in that he is certainly quite imposing when his rage does reveal itself, but is never something simple. One terrific moment for McAnally is when the large family must eat porridge due to Mr. Brown having been fired, and Christy makes a few comments. McAnally does not show a baseless rage but presents where it comes from. McAnally brings a vulnerability in the action that he suggests seems to stem from Mr. Brown knowing that he's not properly providing for his family. McAnally never treats Mr. Brown as a simple man even at his worst when he viciously berates his pregnant daughter. In the moment just before McAnally is just as good at showing the loving side as he plays with another one of his sons, and even in the switch McAnally never makes Mr. Brown's reaction as something from an uncaring father quite the opposite actually. McAnally makes an honest man of this sort. One of his best scenes is when Mr. Brown shows his love to Christy by building him a room, though never says it, there is such a warmth that McAnally gives in his action that he gives sense to Mr. Brown. This is a brilliant performance by Ray McAnally which works as an excellent counterpoint to Brenda Fricker's work. Where she presents a wholly positive influence for Christy, McAnally vividly creates both the positive and negative influences Christy Brown's father also had on the man.