Film appreciation: In the Name of the Father - justice finally served

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 April, 2015, 7:11pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 April, 2015, 12:16pm

In the Name of the Father
Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite, Emma Thompson
Director: Jim Sheridan

Irish director Jim Sheridan has often spoken of how the case of the Guildford Four, jailed for Irish Republican bombings of British pubs, was a travesty of justice and what it said about the society in which he was raised.

That there was violence there before, during and after the years this film is set doesn't really need explaining. Soon after establishing his characters, Sheridan shows how the lessons of history impact on the individual, rather than giving a rundown of the various rights and wrongs of the 1970s. It is a lesson in one man's resolve - how ordinary people can become extraordinary by forces beyond their control.

The attention focuses on Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis) and the madness that leads him and three others to be jailed for a bombing they didn't commit. That his father, Giuseppe (Pete Postlethwaite), is later implicated and dies in prison adds to the sense of moral outrage Sheridan taps into.

But the lingering terror here is what happens to a society when rules don't matter any more, when one part of that society is so incensed by the actions of another that it feels forced to act - and all sense of morality is lost.

At its core is a performance from Day-Lewis that confirms what many suspected since his turn in My Left Foot (1989): he is the premier actor of his generation. Forget the hardships, the stories of starving himself to match Conlon's weight loss and the depravations he endured to at least get a semblance of a feeling of what it might have been like in prison. Day-Lewis simply burns up the screen and is ably supported by Postlethwaite's quiet dignity.

Sheridan wanted his audience to ask "how" but - as ever with the politics and policing in the Northern Ireland of that time - nothing was black and white. For those peering into newscasts and newspapers from overseas, it was more or less a mess of nasty greys. But the wrongs now look so blatant, so systematic, you are left to wonder how the whole place didn't implode.

Did Sheridan see in Conlon a reflection of Ireland and its tortured history? That's the obvious implication to anyone who has felt baffled by the story of the country and its various divides. Sheridan - as he has often done in his career - looks at a common man of his time and paints a bigger picture about humanity and its many evils, more particularly those of the country that nurtured his talent.

Sheridan has said he appreciated the extent of the madness only after he left Ireland, as it's often hard to focus properly when things are just a little too close to home.