CINEMA / Jim Sheridan's rage of innocence

THERE ARE truths the average movie-goer grasps that the average newspaper columnist can miss. In the Name of the Father (15), Jim Sheridan's account of the wrongful imprisonment of the Guildford Four, which has outraged the commentators, deals in such truths: it's emotionally honest, even if factually misleading. What audiences, rightly, respond to is the uneasy relationship between Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day- Lewis) and his dad, Giuseppe (Pete Postlethwaite), coaxed into conciliation by jail, and the numbing horror of incarceration. The film is about a father, a son and the holy ghost of a chance of getting justice when England is in a moral panic.

It's hard to show what it's like to be shackled without showing what it's like to be free, and the film's opening scenes, depicting Gerry rollicking about in Belfast, then London, are the more poignant for our knowing his elation won't last. A 'paddy-thief' (as he puts it) on the Lower Falls Road, he seems on the verge of life, high on the everyday, living with a desperate abandon. He gets mistaken by the British Army for a sniper, and sparks off a Molotov cocktail party in the street. As the tanks move in, he can't resist an insolent dance, a splay-legged jig, and, to add insult to insanity, an abusive rub of the crotch. On the boat to England he whoops with joy.

Day-Lewis astounds again, returning to the anarchy and wit with which he made his name in My Beautiful Laundrette. He's physically wrong for Gerry - too tall, gaunt and Byronic for the scallywag figure who in 1989 emerged from the Old Bailey punching the air - his long floppy hair is more like Jim Morrison's. But he catches Conlon's innocence - in every sense. When he's marched into a police room, arrested in a dawn raid ('Get out of bed, you dirty, murdering bastard'), and has the grey blanket removed from his head, he blinks dopily and gives a sheepish smile to his stony interrogators. You see then the appalling black comedy (if it weren't tragedy) of how Conlon's utter navety might be read as rebellious cockiness.

For Gerry, having his father in prison with him was more a millstone around the neck than a rock to lean on. He had just flown by the nets of country, family and religion, and now he found himself ensnared again. In Pete Postlethwaite's extraordinary performance as Giuseppe, you see the father Gerry wanted to flee, and the one he came to fight in the name of. His ruddy face is lined with a graft the carefree son could never match, and his neat cardigan and fusspot walk betray a caution the boy revolts from. He's the sort of father only able to express love in reproof. But he has a quiet, pacifist dignity - that of a man who doesn't expect much of life.

Postlethwaite's fixed stare of horror and disbelief in court ought to give the English judiciary sleepless nights. So should the film's presentation of the courtroom, an indictment of the whole adversarial system: its phoney rhetoric ('It is a story written in the blood of their victims'), absurd pomp and degrading, seigneurial judgments. It should be said that the IRA members are also presented as villains, ruling Belfast by thuggery, knee-capping and execution. When the real Guildford bomber (a frightening Don Baker) arrives in prison he has an almost deranged menace, immolating a screw who crosses him. The shots of his bombs blasting away the pubs are sickeningly powerful, and the victims' innocence is underlined.

Jim Sheridan is like Gerry Conlon, furious at the injustice, floating above politics. In the Name of the Father isn't a political film, though it has a tribalist feel, particularly in Trevor Jones's eerie, defiant score, and Bono and Gavin Friday's incantatory title song. There's little political context - no sense of a loyalist community - though Sheridan might argue he's writing drama not history. He's chiefly interested in the Conlon men and their relationship: the other members of the Four are hardly sketched (we get to know best John Lynch's brooding, fearful Paul Hill).

Sheridan may have thought that the injustice to the Guildford Four was so flagrant that it gave him scope to fiddle with the subsidiary facts to tease out the drama. I think he was largely right but hugely nave, alienating some of the Four's supporters and giving fuel to their enemies. He's allowed them to muddy the issue by arguing that he meets distortion with distortion - a lie for a lie, a truth for a truth. And some alterations needlessly reduce the credibility of his case. He makes Gerry's alibi an old park tramp instead of a young man in his hostel. The tramp sounds made up - because he is.

Things really fall apart when Emma Thompson enters the scene as the solicitor who helped mount the appeal that won the Four's release. It's not really a part at all, but a deus ex machina, to sleuth out evidence that in real life was freely given by the Director of Public Prosecutions and rant in an appeal court before which as a solicitor she wouldn't have been allowed right of audience. The problem is not that it's unfactual, but undramatic, reducing the subtlety and ingenuity of the film and the legal process to a cheap coup that even The Firm might blush at. Of course, we get the stirring release scene, but we feel cheated at not really knowing how it came about.

For all the Guildford Four's importance, Sheridan may have been wiser writing a straight fiction on the imprisoned father and son theme (the Conlons never, in fact, shared a cell), as in Frank McGuinness's play based on the Beirut hostages, Someone to Watch Over Me. He might then have made a great film instead of a very good and rousing one.

Free Willy (U) is the story of the love between a young boy and a killer whale (Keiko) - but don't worry, it's all above board except for the underwater sequences. I'd love to say I had a whale of a time, but I found it slow and humourless. And I can't see the sluggishly uncharismatic Keiko being flooded with scripts.

Hollywood does what Cardinal Richelieu failed to, and massacres The Three Musketeers (PG). With little Dumas, and no style, comradeship or swagger, it's barely bearable.

Film details: Review, page 74.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game