In the Name of the Father falls into most true story adaptation traps. It has a really long present action, which is unevenly distributed through the runtime. There’s a framing device introducing Emma Thompson’s appeals lawyer first thing–with her popping in from time to time to remind the viewer of the device. That device helps orient Daniel Day-Lewis as a teenager at the beginning (or just a little older), but it’s still a true story adaptation issue.
And it wouldn’t work without Day-Lewis. Director Sheridan doesn’t seem to enjoy the courtroom moments in the film, making Thompson a side character. Not just a side character, but one without much depth. The role works thanks to Thompson’s sincerity and some effective writing from Sheridan and co-screenwriter Terry George.
The framing device doesn’t cover the film’s entire runtime; eventually the turntable needle catches up in the present action. The flashback is Day-Lewis’s personal growth throughout the film, something Sheridan and Day-Lewis are subtle about. There’s a big moment for changing him, sure (it’s a true story adaptation after all), but the groundwork is already there. Responsibly handling the narrative fallout is where Father distinguishes itself.
The film is always well-acted, whether good guys (Pete Postlethwaite is fantastic as Day-Lewis’s always upright father who ends up falsely imprisoned too) or bad guys (Don Baker and Corin Redgrave).
But Day-Lewis, and the true story, are the whole show. Sheridan expertly facilitates them to their successes.
Produced and directed by Jim Sheridan; screenplay by Sheridan and Terry George, based on a book by Gerry Conlon; director of photography, Peter Biziou; edited by Gerry Hambling; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, Caroline Amies; released by Universal Pictures.
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis (Gerry Conlon), Pete Postlethwaite (Giuseppe Conlon), Emma Thompson (Gareth Peirce), John Lynch (Paul Hill), Corin Redgrave (Robert Dixon), Beatie Edney (Carole Richardson), John Benfield (Chief PO Barker), Paterson Joseph (Benbay), Marie Jones (Sarah Conlon), Gerard McSorley (Detective Pavis), Frank Harper (Ronnie Smalls), Mark Sheppard (Paddy Armstrong) and Don Baker (Joe McAndrew).