January 10, 1994 12:00 PM

Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite

The second teaming of Englishman Day-Lewis and Irish director Jim Sheridan (after My Left Foot), this movie tries tendentiously to make a case for those who argue that Britain misrules Northern Ireland, violates Irish civil rights and knowingly compromises its own legal system.

The story, though, is adapted from the self-serving memoir of Irishman Gerry Conlon, a petty thief from Belfast who served 15 years in a British prison after he Was convicted of involvement in the terror bombing of a suburban London pub in 1974. Conlon insisted that he was innocent and that his confession had been extorted through physical and psychological brutality. Sheridan buys Conlon’s story uncritically. Every Englishman here is a corrupt anti-Irish bigot, except Emma Thompson, who plays a sympathetic lawyer who pleads Conlon’s appeal and gels the case retried.

The film’s most striking subplot has Postlethwaite, as Day-Lewis’s distant working-class father, arrested when he tries to free his son. In the unlikeliest of coincidences—though a real one—father and son end up in the same British prison cell. As the two become enmeshed in the turmoil of prison life, Sheridan stages the anguished father-son confrontations with intimacy, and Day-Lewis and Postlethwaite play the relationship with moving passion.

If Sheridan didn’t feel the need to pile on the pedantic subtexts, this would be an absorbing personal drama, rather than a vituperative, question-begging broadside. (R)

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