The film was positively received by critics, and received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Actor in a Leading Role (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Pete Postlethwaite), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Emma Thompson), Best Director, and Best Picture.
Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis) is shown in Belfast stripping lead from roofs of houses when security forces home in on the district with armoured cars, and a riot breaks out. Gerry's father, Giuseppe Conlon (Pete Postlethwaite), later saves him from IRA punishment, and he is sent off to London to stay with his aunt, for his own good. Instead, he finds a squat, to explore, as he puts it, "free love and dope." One evening by chance he gains entry to a prostitute's flat and he steals the £700 he finds there and chats briefly with a man sitting in a park; on that evening in Guildford there is an explosion at a pub that kills four off-duty soldiers and a civilian, and wounds sixty-five others.
While Gerry has returned to Belfast to show off his stolen money, one of the squat residents talks to the authorities and the Conlon home is raided by the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary, who arrest Gerry and immediately place him on a military flight to the UK mainland. Gerry and his friend, Paul Hill (John Lynch) are interrogated by police who torture and threaten them until both finally agree to sign a confession after being held for up to seven days under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. When Gerry's father travels from Belfast to England to help his son, he is arrested at the aunt's home. In the subsequent trial, his aunt's family (known as the Maguire Seven, including Conlon's father) are convicted of supporting the bombing on the basis of nitroglycerin traces, and the four, including Gerry, are sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.
Gerry's time in prison shows a progression from a bitter son who rails at his father to an awakening when he discovers the real perpetrator of the bombing in the same facility. When this man leads a prison protest and then sets a hated prison guard on fire, Gerry is the one who saves the man with a blanket. Gerry takes over the fight for justice himself when his father dies in custody. His case becomes public, gaining support from Dublin, Belfast and London. A common slogan used by his supporters is "Free The Four."
Gareth Peirce (Emma Thompson), a campaigning lawyer who has been investigating the case on behalf of Giuseppe, has a breakthrough when she tries to access Giuseppe's file and is able to look instead at Gerry's. She finds vital police documents in the file that are marked "Not to be shown to the Defence". During the course of their appeal, the production of these documents leads to a triumphant scene in court when Peirce produces the evidence that the police have been lying throughout about the existence of a witness who had provided Conlon with an alibi during their initial investigation. This leads to the overturning of the verdict and immediate release of the Guildford Four.
The film ends with a triumphant Gerry revealing his story to the media and proclaiming his father's innocence. Title cards reveal the current activities of the Four, the exoneration of the Maguire Seven, that the police were acquitted of any wrongdoing, and that the real perpetrators of the Guildford Bombing have not been charged with the crime.Daniel Day-Lewis as Gerry Conlon
Pete Postlethwaite as Patrick "Giuseppe" Conlon
John Lynch as Paul Hill
Mark Sheppard as Paddy Armstrong
Beatie Edney as Carole Richardson
Emma Thompson as Gareth Peirce
Anthony Brophy as Danny
Frankie McCafferty as Tommo
Maureen McBride as Mother
Don Baker as Joe McAndrew
Corin Redgrave as Inspector Robert Dixon
Gerard McSorley as Detective Pavis
Frank Harper as Ronnie Smalls
Jamie Harris as Deptford Jim
Tom Wilkinson as Grant Richardson
Kelly McKeavney as Young Girl in Riot Scene
Model, now actress, Saffron Burrows made her feature film debut in the film, as Gerry Conlon's free love-interest at a commune/squat in London at the time of the bombings.
To prepare for the role of Gerry Conlon, Day-Lewis lost over 50 pounds in weight. To gain an insight into Conlon's thoughts and feelings at the time, Day-Lewis also spent three days and nights in a jail cell. He was prevented from sleeping by a group of thugs, who would bang on the door every ten minutes with tin cups through the night, then was interrogated by three different teams of real Special Branch officers for nine hours. He would also insist that crew members throw cold water at him and verbally abuse him. He also kept his Northern Irish accent on and off set.
Day-Lewis has stated in an interview that he went through all this as "How could I understand how an innocent man could sign that confession and destroy his own life."
The film received very positive reviews from most critics. The review aggregator websites Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic both scored the film very highly, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it 94% and a 'certified fresh' rating, while Metacritic has given it 84% and a 'universal acclaim' rating.
Upon its release the film proved controversial for some historical inaccuracies and for fictionalising parts of the story and Jim Sheridan was forced to defend his choices. In 2003, Sheridan stated: "I was accused of lying in In the Name of the Father, but the real lie was saying it was a film about the Guildford Four when really it was about a non-violent parent." In the film we see Gerry and his father Giuseppe (in the closing credits, the name is misspelled 'Guiseppe') sharing the same cell, but this never took place and they were usually kept in separate prisons. The courtroom scenes featuring Gareth Peirce were also heavily criticised as clearly straying from recorded events and established British legal practices since, as a solicitor and not a barrister, she would not have been able to appear in court as shown in the film. Furthermore, Peirce did not in fact represent Giuseppe Conlon (David Pallister wrote, "the myriad absurdities in the court scenes, straight out of LA Law, are inexcusable.")
The soundtrack of the film includes the song "You Made Me the Thief of Your Heart" performed by Sinéad O'Connor and written by Bono, Gavin Friday, and Maurice Seezer. It also includes "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" performed by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. However, the Bob Dylan Song "Like a Rolling Stone" was not included on the album due to licensing restrictions.
The soundtrack featured these songs:
South Lotts, Dublin, Ireland (used for opening Belfast scenes)
Sheriff Street, Dublin, Ireland (Sheriff Street flats complex (now demolished) used for riot scene)
Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, Ireland (as Park Royal Prison)
Liverpool, England (used for many London scenes)
Manchester, England (used for external court scenes)
- Bono and Gavin Friday - "In the Name of the Father" (5:42)
- The Jimi Hendrix Experience - "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" (5:09)
- Bono and Gavin Friday - "Billy Boola" (3:45)
- The Kinks - "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" (3:00)
- Trevor Jones - "Interrogation" (7:11)
- Bob Marley and the Wailers - "Is This Love" (3:51)
- Trevor Jones - "Walking the Circle" (4:42)
- Thin Lizzy - "Whiskey in the Jar" (5:44)
- Trevor Jones - "Passage of Time" (5:52)
- Sinéad O'Connor - "You Made Me the Thief of Your Heart" (6:21)