Film Review: In the name of the Father

Ciaran Molloy, Militant Labour, January 1994

In The Name of the Father is one of the most powerful and emotive films for many years. Based loosely on Gerry Conlon's book, Proved Innocent, it opens explosively with a riot scene on the Falls Road and ends with the tumultuous scenes at the Court of Appeal, which finally acquitted Conlon and the rest of the Guildford 4.

This is one of those rare films which grips the viewer's attentions, conveying the highly charged atmosphere which existed in the North in the early seventies and explains in graphic detail how four young working class people ended up in jail for something they could not possibly have done.

The main focus of the film, as its names implies, is the relationship between father and son, Guiseppe and Gerry Conlon. Daniel Day-Lewis brilliantly portrays Gerry Conlon and Peter Postlethwaite plays his father.

The tension and emotion of the poignant scenes between father and son in a prison cell, trying to come to terms with their situation will move many to tears.

For me the most harrowing scene is where Guiseppe is callously bundled out of his cell by the screws to hospital where he died, with Gerry screaming and shouting in the background.

The fact that parts of the film have been fictionalised should not detract from its aims. Father and son never shared a cell, for example, but this is used to portray their contradictory characters. The director makes use of his artistic license to good effect. People are entitled to quibble with this but should not allow themselves to be distracted from the main thrust of the film.

As well as the intense sadness, there are also very funny moments of typical black Belfast humour, like the time Conlon was almost shot by the IRA. He was told to drop his trousers before being shot to reveal a pair of leopard skin underpants. "We've got Tarzan here", said one of the IRA men.

There was also the hilarious scene when he arrived back from London dressed like a hippy, walking down his own street in platform shoes.

The entire British judicial and penal system here is exposed to the world. The film has been criticised as 'controversial' or even as IRA propaganda. This is ludicrous.

In actual fact the treatment meted out to Conlon and the others under interrogation in police cells was far worse than shown in the film. The IRA and is campaign is subtly but not sensationally exposed as brutal and horrific. The scene where the Guildford bomb went off after some people had just entered the pub is an example. The sheer terror of the incident is conveyed by the sound of the explosion which fills the whole cinema. The viewers are left pondering the fate of the victims.

The British establishment will not like this film. Its importance is already being played down in Britain. If a similar film had been made about some far off dictatorship or Stalinist Russia, it would have got rave reviews.

It is the British equivalent of Midnight Express, which exposed the horrors of the Turkish prison system. Hopefully it will win some Oscars later this year. More importantly it may pay a role in freeing the hundreds of people in British jails who have been brutalised and framed by the police and courts.

As a background it would help to read Gerry Conlon's book on the events - Proved Innocent - or Paul Hill's story - Stolen Years.

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