THE BIG PICTURE / Seeking the self inside: Not guilty - Adam Mars-Jones reviews In the Name of the Father, the Gerry Conlon story

In the Name of the Father (15) is a film that invites a certain amount of smugness from its audience. If it had been made 10 years ago, before the overturning of the verdicts on the Guildford Four, it would have been a campaigning film, urgent and angry - but of course it couldn't have been made then, couldn't have been lustrously cast or adequately financed.

When Bono writes a song for a film, and Sinead O'Connor sings it, it's easy to feel that the whole project is a sort of gala occasion, a ritual of solidarity that flatters its viewers with the idea that they knew all along that the Four were innocent, that 'we' were never deceived. What gets lost is that it was also 'us' who needed to feel safe at the time of the Four's arrests, that 'we' were one source of the pressure behind injustice.

But if In the Name of the Father, released now, can't be all that urgent or uncomfortable, it can be solid and well-crafted, with moments of great power. The film is based on Gerry Conlon's autobiography (written for the screen by Terry George and the director Jim Sheridan) but it doesn't idealise its hero. In an early, set-piece sequence, Gerry ends up, after a chase, throwing Molotov cocktails at armoured cars and prancing in ugly, childish triumph. It all starts with him idiotically miming Hendrix's guitar with a piece of lead pipe he's stealing from a roof, which the security forces unsurprisingly see as a sniper's gun.

When they shoot at him, his vocal mangling of 'Voodoo Chile' becomes the real thing on the soundtrack, and we feel his excitement as well as his fear. We understand how violence polarises, not politically but metabolically, and we could even believe he might find the excitement addictive, in an otherwise uneventual world. Except that the IRA is furious with him for jeopardising its operations, and soon he's being told to pull his trousers down - so that no cloth gets in the wounds when they shoot him in the knees - a threat that may or may not be a bluff.

Daniel Day-Lewis sheds some facial symmetry and physical poise to play Gerry Conlon, becoming plausibly hunched and even scrawny. He gets a suprising amount of sheer fun out of the role, in the film's first hour. When Gerry stumbles on a prostitute's professional accessories in the course of a burglary, he can't resist trying out the whip, the wig and even perhaps the vibrator. With the money he steals there, he buys a memorably ridiculous 1974 wardrobe and returns to Belfast in triumph. He enjoys disrupting the virtuous family atmosphere, singing Gary Glitter's 'I'm the Leader of the Gang (I Am)' to his younger siblings, and showering them with stolen money while his father looks bleakly on.

Giuseppe Conlon, convicted of being part of a supposed terrorist support group, joined his son in prison and died there in 1980. He is played by Pete Postlethwaite, a distinguished character actor more than equal to this co-starring role. When he delivers pious cliches like 'Honest money goes further' as if through dentures of righteousness, it's not hard to understand Gerry's irritation with this man, so proud of everything that keeps him down. Even when their shared ordeal brings them closer, he retains the ability to surprise, reacting to the suggestion that Gerry will look after his mother when widowed with the devastating question, 'You think I'd leave Sarah in your care?'

The film sees Gerry's imprisonment as a period of enforced personal growth. Relentless interrogation over the lavish period permitted by the Prevention of Terrorism Act may seem like a perverse form of therapy, but if the film is to be believed, it had the effect of stripping away Gerry's defences in a way that forced him to confront himself. If the film has a great scene, it is the one of Gerry and Giuseppe being reunited in custody. Gerry hardly takes in the fact that his father, white with lousing powder, has himself been arrested, but launches into an aria of long- standing resentment. Boiled down to its essentials, his speech amounts only to 'You were so good I had no option but to be bad, to prove myself unworthy', and the scene ends with an exhausted embrace and a soundtrack of sorrowing strings, but something raw and very surprising comes through in Day-Lewis's performance.

When the man actually responsible for the Guildford bombing (fictionalised as 'Joe McAndrew' and played by Don Baker) arrives in the same prison as the Conlons, the film dramatises the struggle for Gerry's soul between a good and a bad father in terms uncomfortably reminiscent of an Oliver Stone film. For a while, Gerry lives by the idea that you're better off being guilty, since then at least you get some respect, while Giuseppe, without overt defiance of authority, works indefatigably on the campaign that will eventually clear both their names.

Apart from McAndrew, the prison population is implausibly congenial. What could this jovial Rasta, for instance, distributing jigsaw puzzle pieces impregnated with LSD, have done to merit the blue and yellow uniform of the category A prisoner? Even an apparent hard man, Ronnie Smalls, can have his bluff called, in what must be the film's silliest moment, a ridiculous melting of menace.

As Giuseppe sees it, imprisonment only blocks out the daylight, and - he indicates his head - 'they can't block out the light in here'. In the Name of the Father sets up a string of images to do with the shrouding of heads. On arrest, Gerry is wrapped up in a blanket. At the crucial point of his development, when he could go either way, his bad father, McAndrew, throws a blanket over the film projector (during a showing of the Godfather, would you believe) and sets fire to a warder. Gerry chooses between fathers at the moment when he grabs the blanket from the projector and uses it to smother the flames. Only after this point does Gerry begin to understand what it is like to be his father. He prepares a basin of aromatic inhalant for Giuseppe, and tenderly covers his head with a towel, reminiscing about how puzzling this ritual seemed to him as a child. Now at last he is imaginatively inside his father's head, his sinus and respiratory system.

When the solicitor Gareth Pierce (Emma Thompson) makes the vital breakthrough in her review of her case against the Conlons, it is as a result of a little respiratory trouble of her own. We see her covering her head with a newspaper in a downpour, and then sneezing on a document to be photocopied. The bureaucrat she has been dealing with catches her cold, and on her next visit she is able to get files from his replacement that she would never otherwise have obtained. It's an ill wind, in fact, that blows nobody any good.

In its presentation of Pierce, In the Name of the Father comes closest to the righteous sentimentality that it otherwise keeps in check. It may be that Gareth Pierce fought back angry tears in court, as Emma Thompson has her do, but it was not Pierce's emotions but her hard work that won the Four their freedom, not sympathy but willpower. Thompson's signature expression in the role is of a neutral politeness that is nevertheless urging her conversational partner to become a better person in every way. It is an effective and powerful look, but it needs to be used very sparingly or it starts to imply a sober uniform and a Salvation Army bonnet.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea

film

In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops

film

Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
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.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game