In the Name of the Father (1993)
Terrorism is a broad area and can encompass a plethora of individuals and causes. The motives behind such movements will always be open to debate but the violence that is the resulting factor should never be celebrated. Some may see terrorists purely as murderers that kill mercilessly. The media sometimes give this perception. Groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS are among the most notorious of the 21st century and, for some, have made Islam and Muslims a faith and people to be feared and reviled. This is wrong, of course. The vast majority of Muslims are peaceful people who simply want to live their lives just as we all do but hate spreads very easily and often taints the innocent. When I was growing up in the 1980s my image of terrorists were not of extremists killing in the name of Islam. Instead, I pictured individuals in green military attire with balaclavas obscuring their faces. Living in England, I was aware of a group known as the IRA but was too young and ignorant to understand anything about them or indeed about the Troubles in Northern Ireland which began in the late 1960s and is recognised as having ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement. Ireland’s history is complicated and something I long to learn more about if I can ever begin to make sense of it all. I’ll certainly never profess to know a lot about it, let alone claim to be an expert, but over time I am trying to learn more. Jim Sheridan’s 1993 film, In the Name of the Father, is set during the Troubles and concerns both Belfast and London in the 1970s.
The film is based on the true story of the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven. The story begins with a solicitor, Gareth Peirce (Emma Thompson), listening to a tape recording from a prisoner, Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis), who regales her with the story of how he fell foul of the law. Gerry’s roots are in Belfast which is a city teetering on the edge of violence with British soldiers patrolling the streets and driving tanks through poor housing estates. There is fear and resilience among the local people, close bonds and networks in the community, looking out for one another. At the outset, Gerry is depicted as a bit of a troublemaker, stealing lead from rooftops, and causing a riot when he is mistaken for a sniper. Gerry’s antics almost get him in deep trouble with the IRA, operating surreptitiously in Northern Ireland, but he is saved by his father Guiseppe (Pete Postlethwaite). While Gerry is at odds with his father and the two have seemingly no connection, Guiseppe is respected enough to be able to spare his son from reprisals though he himself is not involved in IRA business. What is one to do with a tearaway like Gerry? Simple. Send him to England to stay with his Aunt Anne Maguire (Britta Smith). Gerry hooks up with his friend Paul Hill (John Lynch) and the two of them hope to start afresh in London. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go to plan. One night in October 1974 the Guildford pub is devastated by a bomb that has been planted by the IRA. Reprisals from British law enforcement are swift with Gerry Conlon and Paul Hill among the Guildford Four arrested and accused of carrying out the bombing. Under extreme coercion the four individuals confess their guilt. Worse follows when Gerry learns his father, Guiseppe, and Aunt Anne are among the Maguire Seven and are charged with aiding and abetting the IRA. Long prison sentences await all concerned. Behind bars, Gerry and Guiseppe are adamant they are innocent but how will they prove it in the face of an angry judicial system out for Irish blood? Curious solicitor, Gareth Peirce, may be their only hope.
I had heard of the Guildford Four but only knew vague details about what happened to them. I wasn’t familiar with the Maguire Seven or their connection to the Guildford bombing. In the Name of the Father focuses primarily on Gerry Conlon and his father Guiseppe who share the same cell in prison, though this didn’t happen in real life. Both men are polar opposites though the same Irish blood runs through their veins. While Gerry is a disgruntled young man, his father has kept his head down and worked hard for his family, making ends meet however he can. Gerry has no respect for his father and the manner in which they accustom themselves to prison contrasts greatly and leaves them at odds with one another. Guiseppe hopes for freedom but Gerry is full of anger at the injustice that has been dealt to him and is vulnerable to like-minded groups. Nominated for seven Oscars, In the Name of the Father boasts some exemplary acting with Daniel Day-Lewis, Emma Thompson and Pete Postlethwaite all being nominated for Academy Awards. Day-Lewis has a reputation for his dedication to acting roles and the same is true here with him having voluntarily been incarcerated, gone without sleep and retained his Belfast accent both on and off set. You come to expect magnificence so often from Day-Lewis that sometimes you forget to appreciate just how great an actor he is. The film clocks in at just over two hours and structurally it is fine but I did find the latter sections felt a little rushed as we addressed the court appeals for the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven. That didn’t stop the mixture of emotions swirling around inside with deep sympathy and anger often prevalent, while the film’s conclusion genuinely brought a tear to my eye. In the end, the film is enlightening about the Troubles but more so about the individuals who were left physically and emotionally scarred by this terrible period in history.
Verdict: A gritty, well-acted and compelling depiction of a very dark chapter in British legal history.