Jim Sheridan’s In the Name of the Father is a painfully intense account of Gerry Conlon, an Irish man who was part of the “Guilford Four”, a group of four individuals who were wrongly convicted of carrying out the Guilford pub bombings in London. The attacks were actually carried out by the IRA and the pubs were targeted specifically because they used to be frequented by British Army personnel who were stationed nearby. The blasts killed four soldiers and one civilian and wounded 65 others. The bombings led to the passing of the Prevention of Terrorism Acts in 1974. This was then used against the “Guilford Four” by the Metropolitan Police to force confessions out of them.
The fruitful collaboration between director Sheridan and actor Daniel Day-Lewis has resulted in a number of critically acclaimed films such as My Left Foot (for which Day-Lewis won his first Oscar), The Boxer and In the Name of the Father. One can say that the duo is basically the British equivalent of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. The film begins with Conlon’s lawyer, Gareth Pierce (played by Emma Thompson) listening to the tape recording that Conlon has made for her. Pierce is a civil rights lawyer and is very determined in obtaining justice for Conlon, who spent a total of 14 years in prison. The film then flashes back to his life in Northern Ireland.
Conlon is shown as a reckless, ordinary young man whose behavior is criticized by the local IRA and warn him to not screw up their operations. To protect his son from being punished by them, Conlon’s father Guiseppe (Pete Postlethwaite) sends him to London. Conlon finds an old friend of his and they both lodge at a hippie den. When they are forced to move out, Conlon ends up spending his night at a
local park with a vagrant. This is the same night when the bombings took place. Conlon and three others are arrested and faslely charged for the attack. They are continuously tortured and when one of the cops threaten to kill his dad, Conlon is forced to sign a confession without even reading it. The investigation extends to his family members too and eventually, his father is also arrested.
The rest of the film deals with their harrowing ordeals in prison and Pierce’s struggles to get them out. The film is elevated by the strong performances from it’s principal characters, especially Day-Lewis. It’s difficult to not find yourself moved by his powerfully affecting performance. The strongest sequences here are those that involve Postlethwaite and Day-Lewis. The father-son relationship that they portray here is one of the most touching I’ve ever seen. The final courtroom sequence is such an incredibly rousing sequence that I was almost behaving like a crazed fan at a football game, cheering for Day-Lewis’ character. And as Gareth Pierce, Emma Thompson has delivered one of her standout performances.