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The performances that cemented Daniel Day-Lewis as a cinematic icon #PhantomThread


On the list of 'the greatest actors of all time', British thespian Daniel Day-Lewis would place somewhere near the top. Day-Lewis’ latest film Phantom Thread is being touted as his final role before he retires from acting, and he’s set to bow out in style.

Reuniting with director Paul Thomas Anderson, with whom he worked to Oscar-winning effect on There Will Be Blood, Day-Lewis plays a repressed London dressmaker whose latest relationship causes his inner demons to bubble to the surface. It looks highly likely that another Oscar nomination is incoming.

In honour of this cinematic milestone, we’re taking a long hard look at the performances that have earned this hugely dedicated actor such iconic status.

My Left Foot (1989)

The film that announced Day-Lewis as a method actor par excellence, My Left Foot sees the actor play real-life wheelchair-bound artist, Christy Brown.

Disabled from birth, Brown was, remarkably, able to paint and write using only his left foot. Day-Lewis confined himself to a wheelchair throughout the entire shoot, even learning to paint with his left foot as Christy had. This ensured the effectiveness of his hugely physical performance, conveying the helplessness and suffering with a stark reality.

Earning him even more awards to sit atop his mantle, including the first of his three Oscars, Day-Lewis’ stellar performance goes to prove that there is method in his madness.

The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

In Michael Mann’s adaptation of the classic James Fenimore Cooper novel, Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Hawkeye, the adopted son of an 18th-century Mohican chief. More than that, the film gave Day-Lewis the opportunity to display his skills in a more action-oriented setting.

Famously going full method-man and learning how to survive in the wilderness, Day-Lewis ensures Hawkeye has a real authenticity that the usual action leading man lacks. Hawkeye is a commandingly regal character that makes us wish Day-Lewis had taken on a few more rough-and-ready roles.

In the Name of the Father (1993)

Day-Lewis reunited with My Left Foot director Jim Sheridan for this angry drama, the account of one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in British history. It dramatizes the story of the Guildford Four, a group of men who, in 1974, were unjustly accused of the IRA Guildford pub bombings.

Day-Lewis is electrifying as victim Gerry Conlon, and his scenes with the late Pete Postlethwaite as Gerry’s father Giuseppe crackle with the kind of energy that acting awards are made of.

The Age of Innocence (1993)

Another adaptation (this time, Edith Wharton), another legendary director (Martin Scorsese), and another legendary performance as Day-Lewis gets to dabble in a more romantic setting.

Set within New York's high society during the 19th century, hearts become aflutter as Day-Lewis’ lawyer Newland Archer falls for the cousin (Michelle Pfeiffer) of his fiance (Winona Ryder), all while she is separating from her husband. As one would expect, much heartbreak ensues.

Here, Day-Lewis manages to imbue Newland with just the right amount of stiff upper lip apathy and unbridled passion, making the character much more complex than perhaps a lesser actor could have.

Gangs of New York (2002)

Set on a collision course with Leonardo DiCaprio’s vengeful Amsterdam Vallon, Day-Lewis ensures that William ‘Bill the Butcher’ Cutting is a truly fearsome individual.

Martin Scorsese’s operatic drama centres on New York’s 19th century gang wars, and Day-Lewis’ Bill the Butcher could have been a standard big screen villain. But thanks to his captivating performance, he becomes even more interesting than DiCaprio’s hero.

The haunting image of a monologuing Day-Lewis draped in the American flag is something that will stay with audiences forever, the scene standing as a testament to the actor’s talent. 

There Will Be Blood (2007)

Paul Thomas Anderson's dark drama is nothing short of a modern day masterpiece, which back in 2008 swept up the Best Actor Oscar for Day-Lewis. His masterful performance, along with his masterful moustache, takes over the big screen in such a way that few actors rarely achieve, creating a bitter, hate-filled man besotted with wealth and greed.

A story of family ties, religion and madness, Day-Lewis’ merciless oil baron Daniel Plainview is not a character imbued with a redeeming arc (as would usually be the case). Instead Plainview simply is, and always will be, a monster. Make no mistake: he will drink your milkshake.

We cannot wait to see if Phantom Thread is as overwhelmingly impressive as Daniel Day-Lewis’ work here, and whether it’ll earn him another Academy Award. 

Lincoln (2012)

Steven Spielberg’s lengthy, epic tale of America’s president during the Civil War, Lincoln earned Day-Lewis a cavalcade of awards including a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award. Hope the trophy case was big enough…

As expected, Day-Lewis plays the historical icon brilliantly, never once falling into impersonation or parody, his powerful performance exuding the patient strength of Honest Abe himself.

Phantom Thread
is released on 2nd February. What are your favourite Daniel Day-Lewis performances? Let us know @Cineworld.

Jon Fuge is an Unlimited card holder who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.