It chronicles the ordeal of the Guildford Four, a group of three young Irishmen and their Englishwoman friend Wrongly Accused of bombing two soldiers' pubs in Guildford, England in 1974. At the height of The Troubles, all four were involved with drugs and petty crime, a profile the British police (wrongly) believed fit the IRA. In fact Gerry Conlon (Day-Lewis) left England to get away from the IRA who had threatened him for committing theft. After the bombing, police acted on a tip, arresting the four (and later Conlon family members, including Gerry Conlon's father Giuseppe). Coerced into falsely confessing by the police, the Four were convicted by this along with junk science indicating nitroglycerin traces on their bodies at trial, with the Irishmen receiving life sentences and their English friend fifteen years. Six other Conlon family members were also convicted on lesser charges and received sentences ranging from six to fifteen years in prison, including Giuseppe.
Gerry and Giuseppe are imprisoned together in one of the hardest British prisons, having to fight at first to survive inside. They meet one of the real bombers, Joe McAndrew, after he is locked up with them. Joe confirms their innocence, but the police do not want to hear it. Gerry briefly falls under McAndrew's spell, to Giuseppe's alarm, but his presence secures their status in the prison and he leads a protest which drives out the guards. The riot squad soon retakes the wing, however, and McAndrew swears revenge. Following this, an English lawyer, Gareth Pierce (Thompson), inspects things with an investigative commission after the riot, and tells Giuseppe she will look into his case. Gerry angrily tells her to not give him false hope. Still, in time all of the real murderers they are with recognize them to be innocent, and even the chief warder Barker seems to have doubts after getting to know the gentle, beautific Giuseppe. Gerry's affinity with McAndrew ends when he leads his fellow prisoners in a brutal attack on Barker for retaking the wing, and he is transferred to another prison in solitary confinement. After Giuseppe's premature death due to ill health exacerbated by prison, Gerry embarks on a quest to prove himself innocent with the help of Gareth, leading to a stirring and magnificent conclusion.
This Film Contains Examples Of:
- Acquitted Too Late: Giuseppe.
- Artistic License History: In reality, Gerry Conlon and his father Giuseppe were in separate prisons. Gerry never saw his father again. The real bombers were also never incarcerated with any of the Four, although they did confess at their own trial, exonerating them. Just as in the film, this was dismissed by the British authorities until evidence the police had lied about their confessions was revealed. There was also no alibi witness. Rather, the police falsified their interrogation notes to cover up the coercion they used to obtain the confessions. This was discovered by another police detective, not the Four's lawyer, when he was looking over the case file. However, the Griess test really did result in many false positives (such as the chemicals in playing cards being wrongly identified as nitroglycerin by a technician, for instance).
- Asshole Victim: Gerry. We first see him stealing building material and his alibi is robbing a prostitute. This is also what gets him in trouble, as he's ordered by the IRA to leave town, and then has no believable alibi in London when the bombing occurs.
- Based on a True Story: Sadly true, although fictionalized in the film.
- Blatant Lies: The shot lingers on Inspector Dixon's swearing to tell the truth in both of his court appearances, while we know he's doing no such thing, and perjures himself at great length.
- Chewing the Scenery: Day-Lewis, justified, well done and appropriate.
- Clear Their Name: The main thrust of the film's plot is to exonerate the Four and Gerry's family.
- Cluster F-Bomb
- Dirty Coward: Inspector Robert Dixon cannot deal with the truth when the real bomber confesses to him. Dixon continues to maintain the Guildford Four were the culprits in order to save his own reputation.
- Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Giuseppe rebuffs Joe's condolences over him and Gerry doing time for his crimes. It's not so much because he hates pity necessarily, but that it comes from an IRA member who's murdered numerous people. He says to save his pity for the people he's killed.
- Faux Affably Evil: Inspector Robert Dixon may come across as polite and acts as the "good" cop in contrast to the brutal detectives who are mercilessly interrogating the Guildford Four. However, Dixon is a slimy liar who knowingly holds back crucial evidence from the defense. This also goes for Joe McAndrew, the real bomber of the Guildford pubs, who slowly charms Gerry at first but then reveals his true colors when he brutally has chief warder Barker burned over taking back the wing from the inmates.
- Framing the Guilty Party: What the police apparently believed they were doing to the Guildford Four, feeling sure they were all guilty but without enough evidence to convict. It seems they felt good about it.
- Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: Guiseppe big time. This actually earns him respect among the other prisoners and guards as they realize that he clearly is not a violent man and would've never done what he has been convicted of.
- Grey and Gray Morality: The British government is obviously the main antagonist, but the IRA aren't shown to be upstanding guys either-Gerry first leaves Belfast to escape their wrath for his thefts. The real bomber in particular is a bloodthirsty thug who committed many more bombings and murders before he was finally captured.
- Hypocritical Humor: At the Commune, Gerry and Paul pretend to both be vegetarians when the other hippies discover sausages and bacon in Gerry's suitcase, claiming it's just for Gerry's aunt. In the next scene, Gerry and Paul are eating said sausages at Gerry's aunt Annie's house.
- Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Police tortured them into confessing, though doing so in ways that wouldn't leave any marks.
- Jerkass: The detectives who brutally interrogate the Guildford Four.
- The hippy Deptford Jim also applies. He has a go at Gerry and Paul, blaming them for the bombings. Jim later willingly talks to the police, implicating Paul Hill and the Conlons out of spite, thus putting the disastrous events of the film into motion (in reality the source who caused their arrest is unknown).
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Gerry Conlon. He may be a thief, but he deeply loves his family. Plus, Gerry helped to save a prison guard's life during a brutal attack by fellow inmates.
- Kangaroo Court: The judge in the Guildford Four's trial was openly biased against them, and the jury probably was too what with the climate at the time. At the sentencing the judge lamented the fact that Gerry Conlon hadn't also been charged with treason, which still carried the death sentence, and thus he couldn't be hanged. Of course, the police had framed them to begin with by forced confessions.
- Karma Houdini: In the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue, it's stated three of the detectives who framed the Guildford Four were tried for perverting the course of justice in 1993, but acquitted. Sadly, that's Truth in Television. The real bombers were also never charged, despite their confessions, and were released under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement after 21 years in prison for other crimes. It's unknown who had originally implicated Paul Hill (which led to his arrest and the others') but they also were never punished.
- Precision F-Strike: Giuseppe is for most of the film a mild-mannered man who simply listens to his son's constant swearing. But just before his death Giuseppe argues with Gerry and says: "How can I say a thing without you fucking contradicting me all the time?"
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Giuseppe is this to Gerry.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: One is given at the end of the film.
- Wrongly Accused: The Guildford Four. Basically wrong place, wrong time, wrong nationality.
- Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Joe defends his actions to Giuseppe by saying that it was a military target he had bombed, a soldier's pub. Of course, a lot of other people went to there besides soldiers. Giuseppe doesn't accept this for a minute in any case.