The opening scene shows a pub in Guildford, a town near London. Afterwards, we are taken to the lawyer Gareth Pierce,who is driving her car, listening to a cassette Gerry Conlon has recorded for her, telling and explaining of his life home in Belfast, his trip to London, and his case, and that he is innocent.
We now travel back in time, and we see Gerry and some friends running through the Belfast streets, trying to get away from the English army. They think he is a IRA sniper.Unfortunately, Gerry runs through an IRA hiding place for guns, almost shows it to the army. He escapes from the army, but IRA wants to kneecap him. But his father Guiseppe comes in the last second, and beggs for a final chance for his son. IRA agrees, and the Conlon family sends Gerry to London, both so he can earn money, and so he can stop messing up for the IRA.
On the boat to England, Gerry meets up with an old friend, Paul, and in London, they meet another old friend, who lives in a hippie squat, and the two newcommers move in there. But Gerry and his friend decides to leave the community, and they flail around in the city, they end up on a park bench near the pub in the opening scene.
Gerry actually breaks in at a prostitude, and steals her money. He returns to England, and his family becomes very happy, because of the money. But the joy is short. The police come, and arrest Gerry. They claim that he is an IRA bomber, so they arrest him, torture him, and force him to say that he really is from IRA. Guiseppe, his father, comes to his rescue, but he becomes charged for terrorism too.
In the trial high on speeches and rhetoric, but low on facts, the "Guildford Four", including Gerry and Paul, are sentenced to life in prison, because the judge can't find a reason to hang them, and Giuseppe is given fourteen years.
We follow Gerry and Guiseppe through the prison years, and we get to know some new people, both inmates, and the new lawyer Guiseppe has engaged, Garreth Pierce. And we meet the man who is really guilty for the Guilford bombing, and when Gerry and Guiseppe are not released, Gerry starts changing. Because we do also get to know a new Gerry Conlon. We see him change in prison, to something better, to someone who starts loving his father, by fighting his hidden demons, and helps him fight for their release. And when Giuseppe dies, he really starts fighting!
Gerry Conlon was first a simple thief, and didn’t care of the big troubles in life. He ran from roof to roof in Belfast, stealing leads and other shrapnell. When he was sent to London, by his father, he does the same things there too! He doesn’t care too much about anything, and he is still just a simple thief. One day, he robs a prostitude, and he returns to Northern Ireland, full of cash. But in Belfast, his newfound wealth makes him a splendid suspect for the terrible bombing at Guilford.
After days in police custody, and countless meetings with the sadistic police, a tired and depressed Gerry Conlon, feeling life is like a Kafkaesque nightmare, says yes to the question if he is guilty or not.
In prison, Gerry’s first filled with self pity and despair, but after he and his father have cleaned each others closets, he gradually changes, and as I said, when Guiseppe dies, he is like a new man!
His father Guiseppe, is a hard working, honest man, named after a ice cream salesman who sold ice cream outside of his mother’s house. He works at the local bookmaker’s, and tries his best to support his family. When his son is arrested, and they both are sentenced later, he becomes filled with indignation, and works for their cause. Father and son shares cell, but the two are completely different, which they have been the whole life. Luckily, they start confronting each other with what one thinks the other could have done different through Gerry’s adolescence, and their relationship changes from bitter incomprehension to mutual respect and understanding.
The lawyer Garreth Pierce, hired by Guiseppe, invests more than mere time and effort into the Conlon's case, and she spends years with it, with no or minimal advance. And while Guiseppe is eager to cooperate, Gerry is not in the beginning, but as the relationship between them gradually increases, his will to cooperation increases too. One day, the lawyer is mistakenly given a report marked “Not to be shown to the defense”, where she at once sees that the ones sentenced are all innocent, and she knows that the end of prison time is nigh.
The two main actors both do a good job. Especially Daniel Day-Lewis in the role as the tired and beaten up Gerry Conlon in police custody, and as the ignorant drifter in the film’s beginning. But the largest performance in this film, is without all doubt the transformation during the last prison years, into a determined, rational martyr. Peter Postlethwaithe is also excellent as the morally strong father, troubled by his difficult son yet sure of his innocence.
The other roles are all too little developed, and Emma Thompson’s role as Garreth Pierce, could have had more character, even though the court speech of Ms. Thompson is also one of the big moments of this film.
This story is really nothing too make eyecandy out of, like the great panorama pictures in e.g. The Lord Of The Rings, but still, I just have to mention two scenes: The first is in the beginning, where Gerry is running throug hthe streets of Belfast, with the army close behind. The cameras really capture the intensity and confusion the real Gerry Conlon must have felt. The other is when the windows of Gerry's prison cry "fire tears" to match his own manifestations of grief.
This is a story based on the truth, so I found it a little surprising when I read that Conlon and his father were never in the same cell - and that the crucial character of Joe McAndrew (Don Baker), an IRA man who confesses to the Guildford bombings, is a fictional invention. All the same, the main thrust of the story is truthful: British courts found that Conlon and the others were jailed unjustly.
But I feel that the film could have been better. The urgency of the early scenes is lost when the story turns to prison life, and I began to feel that dialogue and events were repeating themselves. Points about the prison years and the fight for an appeal are made a little too painstakingly, and there is much dialog when a little would have done. I have the feeling that if maybe 10 had been edited from the scenes behind bars, it would have made a big difference.