Although considerable liberties have been taken with historical facts, this film is based upon true events. In 1974 an IRA bomb in a pub in Guildford, England, killed several people. Four young Irish people ("the Guildford Four") were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Several others ("the Maguire Seven") were convicted of assisting them and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. All were innocent of this crime, and were later exonerated and released from prison when fresh evidence was discovered, particularly evidence that their confessions had been obtained under duress.
Although all the main characters are Catholics, some devout, some only nominally so, the title does not have any real religious significance. Rather, it alludes to the film's central relationship, that between Gerry Conlon, one of the "Four" and his father Giuseppe, one of the "Seven". The two are very different. Gerry is a wild and rebellious young man, unemployed, a petty criminal and a drug-user. He wears his hair long, something fashionable in the early seventies but often regarded by the older generation as the sign of a hooligan. Giuseppe, by contrast, is a conservative figure; deeply religious, hard-working, law-abiding and honest.
A key moment comes when Gerry recalls a football match in which he played as a boy. His team won, but instead of congratulating him on his victory, Giuseppe reproached his son for a foul committed during the match. This encapsulates the difference in their characters. For Gerry, winning and success are all that matters. Because he has achieved little success, he has no faith in himself and has always drifted through life. For Giuseppe, adherence to moral values is more important than achieving outward success, and it is these values which enable him to retain his self-respect. Because of these differences in character and outlook, the two men's relationship is a difficult one. Beneath their differences, however, they also have a deep love for one another; Gerry is persuaded to confess to the bombing, after the police have failed to obtain a confession through bullying and violence, by the threat that his father will be killed if he does not. Later, Gerry's love for his father is strengthened by the realisation that although the older man is physically frail, his religious faith and self-belief enable him to cope with the injustice of his plight.
Daniel Day-Lewis has been much praised for his performance as Gerry, and he was certainly good, if at times too showy. For me, however, the real star was Pete Postlethwaite as the long-suffering but dignified Giuseppe. The strongest scenes were those between Gerry and Giuseppe; the weakest were those when Gerry, in prison, befriends Joe McAndrew, an IRA man who claims actually to have planted the Guildford bomb. McAndrew is an invented character, and psychologically this did not seem likely; Gerry was, after all, as much a victim of the bomb as those killed and injured by it. Had there been no bomb, there could have been no conviction, wrongful or otherwise, for planting it. Moreover, by associating himself with the IRA's cause, even temporarily, Gerry, although legally innocent, makes himself seem morally guilty.
There were other things that did not ring true. I was unsure why Giuseppe's lawyer thought that Inspector Dixon, the policeman who originally investigated the crime, would be responsible for deciding whether her ailing client should receive compassionate parole, or why so much attention was paid to Gerry's alibi that he was in London on the night of the bombing. As the bomb would have had a delayed-action timer, he could easily have returned before it exploded; the "Horse and Groom" pub (I used to live in Guildford) is only a short walk from the station, about half an hour by train from London. (The brutal and corrupt Dixon is another invented character; the name may refer ironically to the popular British TV show, "Dixon of Dock Green", which featured an honest and decent "bobby" named Dixon).
It surprises me that some have criticised the film as being "pro-IRA". If one were setting out to make a pro-IRA propaganda film, one would not make it about the Guildford bombing, an event in which the IRA cold-bloodedly murdered several innocent civilians without warning. Nor does the film ignore the IRA's violence towards the Irish Catholic community it supposedly represents. At the time of the Guildford bombing, Gerry is living in London, having been forced to flee Northern Ireland by IRA threats; like most terrorist organisations it has a sternly moralistic attitude to all crimes other than those committed by its own members and punishes with mediaeval severity those who, like Gerry, are guilty of petty larcenies. The fact that the "Four" and the "Seven" were undoubtedly treated unjustly by the British authorities does not retrospectively justify the IRA's crimes of which they were wrongly accused.
The film does not attempt to be a comprehensive statement about the Northern Ireland situation- the Unionist community, for example, is not even mentioned. Indeed, given the complexities of that situation, and the even greater complexities of Irish history from which it springs, it would not be possible to make such a statement in a film. Nevertheless, "In the Name of the Father" is a very good film, both as a study of father-son relationships and as a warning of the possibilities for injustice inherent in any criminal justice system. 7/10 A goof. In the early scenes, set in 1974, Gerry, while driving along London's Lower Thames Street passes a set of orange and white barriers designed to stop vehicles from entering "The City" (London's central financial district). These barriers did not exist in 1974; they were erected following a later IRA bombing campaign
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