Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Jim Sheridan (director), Terry George and Jim Sheridan (co-writers) In the Name of the Father (1993)

The film In the Name of the Father was directed by Jim Sheridan who co-wrote the screenplay with Terry George.  It is based on the autobiography by Gerry Conlon Proved Innocent (1990).  The film is a cinematic representation of Gerry Conlon’s account of a grave miscarriage of justice, where four innocent Irish people in England, including Gerry, were sentenced to thirty years (life) for the terrorist bombing of two pubs in Guildford, a crime they did not commit.  Also convicted were members of Gerry’s family, erroneously charged as part of a supposed terrorist gang that was deemed to have assisted in the crime.  It included Gerry’s aunt and most of the Maguire family, as well as Gerry’s father, Giuseppe Conlon, who died in prison.  The film presents a protest against the British establishment and legal authorities for this injustice, since, as the film informs its audience in the final credits, everyone responsible escaped justice. The film is therefore, in part, a way of punishing these men by blackening their reputations.  The film is solidly on the side of the Irish-Catholics and their civil rights movement, but it stops short of lending support to the IRA that was using terrorism to achieve its ends.  

The two Guildford pubs were bombed on 5 October 1974 as part of an IRA campaign to pressure the British government to withdraw its troops from Northern Ireland.  The explosions ripped apart the crowded pubs, killing five and injuring sixty-five people.  The British troops had been stationed in Northern Ireland to keep the peace during ‘The Troubles’, but were perceived by the Irish-Catholics to be on the side of the Protestant authorities and were regarded by the IRA to be an army of occupation.  

The IRA terrorist campaign, which included killing and maiming innocent young English people and off duty soldiers in the Guildford pubs, led to additional injustices by the British authorities.  The Wilson Government in Britain hastily passed the Anti-Terrorism Act (1974), which gave the police and the anti-terrorism squad undemocratic powers to arrest and detain suspects for seven days without needing to lay charges.  The film suggests that these emergency powers were open to abuse, and they were subsequently abused.  This was due to the righteous anger of the legal and police authorities, and the impact of the moral panic and national hysteria that swept the community. The righteous anger of British legal and police authorities motivated them to find, prosecute and convict suspects as soon as possible, even if they turned out to be scapegoats.  Gerry Conlon and his friends were the unfortunate victims of circumstance. 

The film seeks to blame the British legal system and the British establishment for this miscarriage of justice, although a more specific culprit is implicated as primarily responsible.  The head of the anti-terrorist squad, Robert Dixon, is shown to have played a pivotal role in the conviction of these innocent people.  Following this, he sought to protect his reputation by using bureaucratic delaying tactics to obstruct the investigations that could potentially exonerate the ‘Guildford Four’, obstructions that took fifteen years to overcome before justice was done. 

The film goes into some detail depicting the anti-Irish-Catholic prejudice of the British establishment, legal authorities and many British people, sentiments that were even shared by British convicts in regards to their Irish-Catholic counterparts in prison.  The film’s depiction of this prejudice underscores the film’s support for the Irish-Catholic civil rights campaign that was active during ‘The Troubles’. Indeed, the film can be seen as making a case for improving the civil rights of the Irish-Catholics, the poor, and of prisoners.  It also celebrates the virtue of dedicated lawyers (like Ms Gareth Peirce) who fight to liberate the unjustly convicted.   

While the film does not support the IRA in its campaigns that involved violence, it does recognise that the IRA was capable of delivering improvements to the lives of their Irish-Catholic countrymen in Northern Ireland.  The IRA is shown as providing an alternative source of local government for the aggrieved Irish-Catholic population and IRA members enjoyed support and protection among the Irish-Catholic people of Belfast.  Yet the film also shows the IRA abusing its power by resorting to violence too readily when seeking to resolve problems in the community. 

The IRA seemed to dispense justice in an unjust and arbitrary way that was comparable to the unjust and arbitrary way it was dealt out by the British police and courts.  In regards to the justice dealt out by both sides, the punishments did not fit the crimes.  The IRA resorted to the punishment of ‘kneecapping’ for petty theft, which was followed by a death sentence administered to Gerry’s friend for being a chronic thief.  Meanwhile, the British police used psychological torture to obtain confessions under duress that resulted in innocent suspects receiving life sentences.

The film presents the fearless, tough terrorist Joe McAndrew as a counterpoint to Gerry’s kind-hearted, law-abiding father Giuseppe.  Coincidently, both men shared a first name.  The name Giuseppe is Italian for Joseph, which can be abbreviated to Joe.  For a time while in prison, Gerry is torn between his loyalty for his two father figures, Joe and Giuseppe, initially choosing Joe until Joe’s use of extreme violence leads him to recognise the immorality of Joe’s methods.  After that, he sides with his father Giuseppe and supports his legal campaign for an appeal.  

The film draws a contrast between pessimism and optimism.  Gerry is a pessimist, and he falls into a life of petty crime, illicit drug use and aimlessness.  His pessimism in prison leads him to do nothing to rectify his situation.  By contrast, Giuseppe is an optimist who never gives up on seeking justice.  However, after Gerry rejects Joe, he takes on his father’s optimism and then plays a major role in the campaign for their freedom. In this role, Gerry matures into an impressive man unlikely to return to a life of crime.  On his release, he vows to continue to campaign to rehabilitate his deceased father’s reputation by overturing his conviction. 

The film can also be seen as about a troubled, tumultuous relationship between a father and son.  Gerry and his father have a love-hate relationship that develops into a deep bond of mutual devotion.  Gerry is a wayward son who resented his father’s excessive care.  Giuseppe is a devoted father who loves the kind of delinquent son who would have been rejected by most fathers.  Interestingly, their roles are reversed later in the film as Giuseppe’s health deteriorates. Gerry becomes a devoted son who cares for his ailing father until he dies and then he fights to clear his father’s name, having become the kind of son of whom Giuseppe could be proud.   

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

© Mark Lopez 2021 All RIGHTS RESERVED

The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: In the Name of the Father meaning, In the Name of the Father themes, In the Name of the Father analysis, In the Name of the Father notes