Life is too short not to hold grudges, and in Ireland enmities are as tenderly nursed as an invalid mother. Even when peace breaks out, Protestant marchers still commemorate their military victory of 1690. Catholic schoolkids can recite Cromwell’s crimes as if they were committed yesterday.

The conflict was made for drama, and long before Hollywood got hold of it and made films like Blown Away or the new-to-video The Devil’s Own, the best stories about Irish rebels came, not surprisingly, from Ireland and even England, where the Brits have fought the Irish independence movement too long to reduce it to a plot gimmick. Loathed or loved, the Irish Republican Army and its allies are always viewed with caution and a certain amount of respect.

Although small films, including Ken Loach’s Hidden Agenda, mapped the political no-man’s-land, it wasn’t until Jim Sheridan’s heartfelt In the Name of the Father more than 40 years later that Ireland’s civil strife finally received serious, successful, major-studio treatment. Sheridan’s movie set a new standard and seemed to establish a few rebel-movie ground rules: Irish rockers on the soundtrack (Bono warbles over the credits), a screenplay cowritten by Terry George (an old Irish activist himself), and a meaty part for John Lynch.

In the Name of the Father, however, had qualities that were harder to copy. It had extraordinary performances from Pete Postlethwaite and Daniel Day-Lewis as a father and son railroaded by British justice; it viewed the IRA with calm and knowing eyes. And if the details of the real-life story were blurred, and the whole thing neatly formatted as a Big Courtroom Movie, the film wasn’t afraid of its own complications. A

In the Name of the Father
  • Movie