“I’m a free man and I’m going out the front door.”
It’s extremely difficult for me to explain how much I love this movie, but I’m gonna try. Daniel Day Lewis plays Gerry Conlan, a nobody from the streets of Belfast who moves to England in an attempt to escape the tightening clutches of the petty criminal world in which he lives. After an explosion in a pub in Guilford, he and old friend Paul Hill become easy prey for an English government under intense pressure from it’s people in the wake of an increased IRA presence.
Based on real events that happened during the height of the conflict between dissident Irish Republicans and the British Armed Forces in the 70’s, this is the story of how the “Guilford Four” as they became known were wrongly imprisoned and the struggle to clear their names afterwards.
I’m not here to discuss exactly what is real or what was fabricated for the sake of cinema. There’s been many arguments for and against the events that happened or what some say simply didn’t happen the way it was portrayed in the movie. This is not a pro-IRA movie by any means or anti-British either, it’s a movie centred around the true meaning of the word justice. Parallel to the cause to free the Guilford Four is the relationship between Gerry and his father Giuseppe, played impeccably by Pete Postlethwaite. If anything, the true heart of the story here is the very real and relatable friction between father and son and the strange twisting emotions of love, hate, devotion and expectation to name but a few that can lead a family to self implosion.
After Lincoln, Day-Lewis has now notched up three Oscars for Best Actor but I can honestly say that none of them compare to his unbelievably heartbreaking, intense portrayal of Gerry. It’s a master performance which never fails to pull at my heartstrings every time I watch it. In one scene he can be a heedless, self-centred, arrogant little prick with zero respect for his father or himself and in the next he can be the likeable hero we all want to cheer for. John Lynch as Paul Hill and Emma Thompson as the lawyer hell bent on clearing Conlan’s name, step up to the plate sufficiently but it’s Postlethwaite’s poignant depiction of the loving father, protector and provider, determined to make amends that helps make this the masterpiece it still remains today. Postlethwaite’s performance of a lifetime stands up to Day-Lewis’s and his ability to proudly assert a certain sense of humility from his son is what steadily moves the story forward and keeps it grounded without it becoming too much of a court room drama. Many of the best scenes involve the two in prison together. It’s his untimely death that ultimately clicks the movie into third gear and begins the initial ascendance towards the climax.
I really can’t stress how good the acting is. They make you believe every single word they say. They make your stomach churn every time something happens. In short, they make you care. For reasons I can’t fully explain I feel a real sense of personal connection with this movie, not because of the actual political subject or the implications that surround it but more down to the relationship between Gerry and his father. I defy anyone who watches this who doesn’t feel some inclination of sadness about their own father regardless of their own paternal situation. That’s how good Daniel and Pete are together. I can honestly say that there isn’t many movies out there that can make me so full of anger and then drowned with such teary eyed contentment shortly after. A true work of genius from Jim Sheridan and everyone involved. I would implore anyone who hasn’t seen this to do so as soon as humanly possible.
Gavin Logan – Follow me on Twitter