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
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine