Based on a true story, Pete Postlethwaite and Daniel Day Lewis star as a father and son accused of conspiring to carry out an IRA bombing on British soil. Despite being entirely innocent, the police force them into signing confessions of guilt, and are wrongly imprisoned for years before the truth comes to light. The film feels like a highly realistic portrayal of those times, no doubt there is some artistic license taken for dramatic effect, but the key thing is that the quality of the writing and acting very much gives the impression of staying truthful to the facts. The prison chapters are a scary insight into what it would have been like to be an Irish criminal in a English prison during that era, especially if you weren't even guilty, and the content of one or two scenes is quite shocking if events did indeed happen as shown.
To give some idea of how far Daniel Day Lewis is prepared to go with his method acting, he stayed in solitary confinement for three nights prior to the start of filming, and also at one stage stayed awake for three nights to get himself into the right place to film crucial interrogation scenes. The man is a master of his art. He gets the Irish accent and character traits spot on, leading to a level of fury and contempt for what the legal system calls "justice" that is utterly convincing. This equally goes for Emma Thompson, the lawyer who comes into the story years after they are jailed, attempting to have them freed. For someone who often appears on screen as jolly or low key characters, she really tears up the courtroom once she gets going. Postlethwaite on the other hand needs to play it down, and contrasts their roles with a quiet, dignified performance that leaves just as much of an impression.
There's no doubt that it's a quality piece of work, and an important piece of history in the context of the troubles, but I can't help thinking that it's not quite at the level required to be considered amongst the cinematic greats. It's surprising then that it found it's way into IMDb's list of the top 250 films of all time (where I took my blindspot selections from), considering this is based entirely on ratings by the website's millions of users, it really doesn't seem like the sort of film that would gain mass appeal. I was impressed by it, but the heavy subject matter makes it unlikely I'd want to see it again, so I'd gladly give it a 'view once' recommendation and leave it there.
The prison scenes were filmed in a disused jail in Dublin, called Kilmainham Gaol. It is now a public museum, so you can go on a tour of the set if you so wish. It also featured in The Italian Job (1969).
Blindspots is an ongoing project from film site The Matinee, and this year I’m joining in. The idea is to pick 12 well known or highly rated films you’ve not seen but feel you should have, and vow to watch them all by the end of the year. If you write your own film blog, feel free to join in at any time. My list is here.