By Arthur Flynn
The reunion of the award winning director-star team of My Left Foot, Jim Sheridan and Daniel Day-Lewis was well greeted by cinemagoers. Their second outing together, In the Name of the Father, was another story of a real-lifeIrishman whose suffering afforded Daniel Day-Lewis the opportunity to crawl under the skin of another tormented character.
Gabriel Byrne bought the rights to Gerry Conlon’s book Proved Innocent and intended to play Conlon himself in the film but decided to let Daniel Day-Lewis play the role. Byrne served as executive producer. Jim Sheridan and Terry George wrote the screenplay.
A strong supporting cast was assembled headed by Emma Thompson as Gareth Peirce, Pete Postelthwaite as Guiseppe Conlon, John Lynch as Paul Hill, Mark Sheppard as Paddy Armstrong and Beatie Edney as Carole Richardson. Others in the cast included Corin Redgrave, Gerard McSorley and Joanna Irvine.
It gave Day-Lewis another opportunity to get inside the skin of a sympathetic character after his powerful performance as the disabled Dublin artist Christy Brown.
In preparation for his role, Day-Lewis lost thirty pounds and spent several nights in the jail cell on the set as crew members threw water over him and verbally abused him. He also submitted himself to twelve hours of interrogation by a team of real detectives. Daniel kept his Northern Irish accent on and off the set for the entire shooting schedule.
During casting the U2 singer Bono was offered the role of Paul Hill but his busy touring schedule prevented him from accepting. The singer Don Baker made his screen debut as an IRA man.
The bulk of the filming took place in Kilmainham Jail with Ringsend and Sheriff Street in Dublin doubling as working class areas of Belfast.
Despite playing father and son, Pete Postlethwaite was only eleven years older than Day-Lewis. In the film they shared a cell together where in reality this never occurred.
The real life story was set in 1975 when the IRA bombed a soldiers’ pub in Guildford. The British police arrested petty crook Gerry Conlon and three of his mates as culprits. They spread the noose wider and gained convictions against practically the entire Conlon family.
Most notable was Gerry’s fiercely moralist father Guiseppe, who died in hospital. A solicitor, Gareth Peirce, becomes involved in the case and discovers that the police withheld evidence that would have freed Conlon and the ‘Guildford Four’ fought through to a successful appeal. After their release they are acclaimed outside the court.
Over the period of the film Conlon goes through a series of changes in his character from the hippy clothes and hair-dos of the ‘70s as he gets a sharper look and grows more determined.
The reviews for In the Name of the Father were overwhelming positive. The following are examples: ‘Daniel Day-Lewis is remarkable.’ ‘At every point, Day-Lewis is at the centre of the story, and he carries the film with an impassioned performance. It helps that it’s a great part.’
‘Superlative drama, about a group of Irishmen wrongly imprisoned in England. As ever Daniel Day-Lewis exhibits a tour-de-force performance, that leaves one genuinely gripped.’ ‘A film not to be missed.’
On its release, In the Name of the Father became embroiled in a controversy over questions of accuracy. The film was a massive box office hit in Ireland, taking over £2.5 million.
An even greater achievement for the film was receiving seven Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing.
The film lost out to Schlindler’s List, which swept the boards. Daniel Day Lewis was the favourite to win the Oscar for his outstanding performance but lost out to Tom Hanks, playing a homosexual Aids sufferer in Philadelphia.
In 1997 Jim Sheridan and Daniel Day Lewis were to be reunited for The Boxer, again set in Belfast under the shadow of the Troubles and a love story. Both Sheridan and Day-Lewis were again to receive accolades for their endeavours.