“Falsely accused. Wrongly imprisoned. He fought for justice to clear his father's name.”
Set during the 70s and 80s in the United Kingdom, a period when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was very active in Northern Ireland and England, this film bases its story on actual events. A “campaign of terrorism” waged by the IRA against the English, who they considered “invading oppressors,” forms the background against which those events occur. Taken from an autobiographical work of Gerry Conlon, the movie tells the story of people, who through no desire or intention, become involved with “terrorist events.” Their lives and the lives of their families suffer profoundly as a result of government policy enabled by UK legislation which might seem quite familiar to many in America today.
The film opens by showing the bombing of a pub in Guildford, England on Oct. 5, 1974. After the credits roll, the context switches to the car of Gareth Peirce (Emma Thompson), an English lawyer. She inserts a cassette tape into her car's tape deck and listens to Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis) recount his story while she drives. Much of the film's story unfolds from Conlon's narration on the tape, however occasional context changes flow easily and don't confuse an attentive viewer.
At the start of his recollection Gerry Conlon lived in Belfast. As a petty thief, he stole scrap metal to get money. This put him on the bad side of the IRA. After an incident involving both IRA and British troops pursuing Gerry, his father Giuseppe (Pete Postlethwaite) intercedes with the IRA leader who holds Gerry to gain his release. Gerry's father and mother (Marie Jones) decide to send him to London to get him away from the trouble in Belfast. On the boat over he meets an old friend: Paul Hill (John Lynch). When they get to London they look up Paddy Armstrong (Mark Sheppard), another friend of Gerry's who lives in a “hippie commune.”
At the commune they meet Carole Richardson (Beatie Edney), as well as several other people, at least one: Deptford Jim (Jamie Harris), opposes their joining the group. When the vegetarian commune members discover that Gerry has pork (both a cut and sausages) in his suitcase, Gerry claims he also practices vegetarianism and recalls that he was to deliver the pork to a relative in London. He and Paul take the pork to his Aunt Annie Maguire (Britta Smith), who prepares some of the sausages for them to eat, showing their “vegetarianism” to be rather lightly enforced. His aunt reminds Gerry to call home.
Time passes pleasantly at the commune. After six weeks Gerry calls his father. Bombings have started in London and the surrounding area. Giuseppe expresses worry to Gerry about the bombings, but Gerry tells him that they don't pose a problem. Returning to the commune, Deptford Jim accuses Gery and Paul of bringing the bombing with them from Ireland, leading to a rancorous dispute. Gerry and Paul decide they've had enough of the commune and leave. At about this same time Joe McAndrew (Don Baker), a militant IRA leader decides that he and his men will, without warning, commit the bombing which opened the film.
Shortly after the Guildford bombing, Parliament enacts legislation allowing police to hold suspected terrorists 7 days before they are charged with a crime. This, in combination with Deptford Jim's resentment, leads Inspector Robert Dixon (Corin Redgrave) with Detective Pavis (Gerard McSorley) and a host of other police to apprehend Gerry and Paul, as well as many of the people with whom they have had contact.
That much gives a taste and sets the stage for the rest of the story. As in the other films pictured surrounding this review, Daniel Day-Lewis gives an outstanding performance in this movie. The supporting portrayals of Emma Thompson and Pete Postlethwaite also merit strong recognition.
Comparing the political events in the UK following the IRA bombing campaign in London to those in the USA following the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center seems natural. In both cases the violent deaths of large numbers of innocents gave politicians the impetus to pass legislation which set aside centuries of hard won civil liberties. As usual, allowing government to attain unmonitored power resulted in the abuse of that power. After observing what has been done by the US government in prosecuting its many wars: Iraq war, Drug war, etc. if any holdouts remain who might still think that only the guilty have need to fear police action; perhaps viewing In the Name of the Father might give them a new perspective.