IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, 1993
In 1974, Gerry Conlon, unemployed and descending into a life of petty crime, decides to leave his native Belfast and the escalating Troubles, and go to London. On the boat over, he meets his friend, Paul Hill. Once in London, they decide to hang out in a hippie commune until eventually a dispute erupts and they are asked to leave. They spend the night on a park bench and committing a burglary, then decide to head back to Belfast with the money they’ve stolen. On the same night, October 5, 1974, the IRA have decided to bomb a pub in Guildford, just outside of London, killing 5 people and injuring dozens more. In the frenzied political aftermath of the bombing, Gerry and Paul are identified by a resentful commune member as having behaved suspiciously while living there. They are picked up and arrested under recently passed anti-terror legislation allowing the British government to hold suspects for 7 days without charge. Under brutal interrogation, they crack and sign confessions admitting responsibility for the Guildford atrocity. Carole Richardson and Paddy Armstrong, two other members of the commune who happened to know Gerry and Paul are also charged and they become the Guildford Four, who will serve 15 years in prison for a crime they did not commit. Eventually Gerry’s father, Giuseppe Conlon, is deemed a co-conspirator, along with other family members, when he comes to Gerry’s aid after his arrest . After many years have passed, an English lawyer, Gareth Pierce, decides to take up their cause to finally secure justice for the four, and after Giuseppe’s death in prison, to clear the name of Gerry’s father. Based on a true story.
CLICK HERE and watch 2009 MOVIES FOR FREE!
When this film opened in 1993, it was the subject of controversy on a number of fronts. It was resented in Britain as being a pro-IRA film, which, as it happens it is not. It is based on the true story of Gerry Conlon, as related in his autobiography “Proved Innocent” and it is highly critical of the British justice system. The screen adaptation, co-written by Jim Sheridan and Terry George, does alter some situations, characters and omit some details of Gerry Conlon’s and Paul Hill’s personal histories. Minor alterations include the fact that, unlike in the film, Gerry and his father, Giuseppe, never shared a cell. As well, the character of Inspector Dixon, who is depicted as being primarily responsible for the suppression of exculpatory evidence from the defense, is actually a composite of a number of officers who participated in the cover up. More to the point, the fact that both Paul Hill and Gerry Conlon seemed to have had some contact with at least the fringes of the IRA in Belfast, (not unusual for this period in Northern Ireland) is never mentioned, beyond Gerry’s angering local IRA members with his incorrigible trouble making.
Director Jim Sheridan is, in fact, more interested in the psychological and emotional journey of Gerry Conlon, and the evolution of his relationship with his long suffering father, Giuseppe, than he is in the politics of their situation. Sheridan handles the basic incidents of the events leading up to the arrest, trial and imprisonment of the Guildford Four with a clarity that sometimes requires the above mentioned eliding of events and people. Nonetheless, what he does show us he handles extremely well. The opening scenes in war torn Belfast have been praised for their authenticity. Sheridan handles the action sequence that opens the film, in which Gerry sets off a chain of events that will lead to British tanks confronting the locals in the streets, with a fluid camera that never obscures his dramatic focus. He never sacrifices clarity for action. As well, Sheridan gives us some startling and moving shots; a one legged man hobbling on one crutch, trying to navigate the oncoming tanks and the flying debris of the Belfast streets, is a memorable image.
Sheridan’s main purpose is to recount the injustice done to the accused, so a good deal of time is spent on the harrowing interrogation of Gerry Conlon, as well as the trial of the Guildford Four. Again, his primary interest is the psychological hell of Gerry’s descent into a false confession. Once the trial is over, the second half of the film is devoted to Gerry and Giuseppe’s life in prison and the necessity of their coming to terms with one another; Gerry with his father’s illness and resigned acceptance to life under British rule and Giuseppe with his son’s failures and prolonged immaturity. Daniel Day-Lewis as Gerry and Pete Postlethwaite as his father, Giuseppe Conlon, have a beautiful rapport together in their prison scenes. Each actor brings an emotional depth to his part that gives us a real insight into the Conlons’ story, from their perspective. Day-Lewis captures perfectly the energy and humor of Gerry’s feckless youth. The great scene he plays with Postlethwaite where they confront each other for the first time in custody and all of Gerry’s anger, resentment, and fears come pouring out is as memorable a piece of acting as anything Brando or DeNiro ever did. It has to be noted that Postlethwaite’s simplicity in this scene, his quiet acceptance of his son’s acting out, is as crucial to its success as Day-Lewis’ audacious performance. Day-Lewis seamlessly transitions over the course of the film into a man finally committed to something larger than himself.
Emma Thompson, as the lawyer Gareth Pierce, displays her characteristic intelligence. Unfortunately, Corin Redgrave, as Inspector Dixon, must bear the weight of embodying the malfeasance of the entire British legal establishment and, as such, he seems more like a stock British villain than a fully realized character. Don Baker, as the hardened IRA operative whom Gerry meets in prison, is appropriately cold eyed and empty of emotion.
The legal travesty of the Guildford Four case is self-evident. The triumph of this film is its success in dramatizing the arc of Gerry Conlon’s story from a reckless Belfast youth to a mature man determined to win a political campaign to free himself and those unjustly imprisoned with him through to the emotional high point of their ultimate vindication in court, years later. It is a compelling journey which forcefully illustrates the consequences of the overwhelming power of the state if brought to bear on individuals who are helpless to fight back.