In the Name of the Father opens with an intoxicating melody from Bono. It’s a song that would not have been out of place in the 70s. In the Name of the Father is inspired by a true story – the story of the Guilford Four. Four young people who were wrongfully accused of terrorism acts in 70s England. Daniel Day Lewis stars as the protagonist of our story. He is Gerard Conlon – an Irish rogue living in the slums with his parents and two sisters. Gerard is the typical antihero. He is not a bad person. He takes part in recreational drugs, he smokes and he swears. He doesn’t quite understand his father Giuseppe [Peter Postlewaite] and after yet another run in with the law he leaves for Britain. One happenstance after another leads to Gerard and three of his friends being accused of the Guilford bombings.
Scene after horrific scene we watch as Gerard is put through some of the most ludicrous and appalling torture sequences. If we weren’t so engrossed we’d laugh. Now is probably an opportune time to address the fact that this film is not a book by book account of what happened to Conlon and the rest of the Guilford group...but this is a film. Is Billy Costigan’s pain, Sophie’s anguish, Laura’s depression any less potent because these characters are not real? Certainly not. Good performances elevate anything that is fabricated – and it so with Daniel Day Lewis in this film. That same year Daniel gave another great performance as Newland Archer. Gerard is the stark opposite of Newland – but not for one moment do we doubt that Daniel is Gerard. If you thought that the story had run the gamut of tragedy, you’re wrong.
Gerard and his three friends are sentenced to life in prison but even more ridiculous his father, and nine of his family members are sentenced to sentences ranging from fourteen to thirty years. Jim Sheridan’s direction is wonderfully taut. Those courtroom scenes are powerfully edited and the sentencing of the four is effectively shot. As outstanding as Day Lewis is, Peter Postlewaite matches his performance. In prison Giuseppe and Gerard face off as Gerard recounts the day he knew his father was weak. Daniel goes for the sky with his delivery of the scene but what makes the scene all the powerful is the expression on Postlewaite’s face. It’s heartbreaking – and all the more because it’s true. Giuseppe is not a fighter. He knows that. And thus begins the parting of the ways.
Gerard decides to fight the power his way and Giuseppe fights them his way. We already knew that Gerard was innocent but the arrival of a man who confesses to being the actual bomber cements that. Giuseppe meanwhile begins working on an appeal with barrister Gareth played by the always effective Emma Thompson. Gerard’s animosity for her is palpable. He has spent years watching his father diminish day after day and this lawyer giving him false hope is not how he wants Giuseppe to spend the last days of his life. But that is how he spends it. Despite incessant soliciting on Gareth’s part Giuseppe is declined from being released and he dies in prison. Daniel Day Lewis and Emma Thompson’s reaction to the death is both realistic and shattering. Giuseppe’s death instigates one of the most obviously beautiful scenes in the film, as the inmates light pieces of paper and drop them out the window. It’s a vigil for this great man and one of the saddest moments of this bleak film.
It ends well for Gerard and the other convicts but after Giuseppe’s death the baton passes to Gareth to give the emotional core of the film. She handles it as best she could with her few scenes, but something is missing. Her Oscar nomination was wholly deserved with a build-up to that one courtroom scene that we were waiting for. That scene alone is worth her top billing in the film.
In the Name of the Father is not fact – but it is not fiction. Regardless of the source material it is a tour de force film...and the ending does lag. But I still love it much.