Movie star actually makes a difference. Shock.

What do they know about politics? Why don’t they just stay out of it and carry on looking beautiful or tortured or smug? Actors and politics, huh?

Especially movie actors. Team America: World Police satirised them as patsies for North Korea and aggressively naive and deluded- Sean Penn, Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon and the other members of the Film Actors Guild (F.A.G.).

By following the rules of the Film Actor’s Guild, the world can become a better place; that handles dangerous people with talk, and reasoning; that, is the fag way. One day you’ll all look at the world us actors created and say, “wow, good going, FAG. You really made the world a better place, didntcha, FAG?”

But it’s too easy to write them all off. And puncturing thespian  self-importance would work better without the lame homophobia.

There’s a guy just died who maybe did make a difference. No, not George Clooney. Relax ladies, he’s still breathing. And his Satellite Sentinel scheme in Sudan seems not a bad idea.

I’m talking about screen and stage actor Pete Postlethwaite – never likely to be called beautiful in appearance, though his acting could be. As for his face? The Guardian newspaper described it thus:

“The stark planes and bulges of his face created a veritable Easter Island statue of authenticity and plainness… not ugly… could look rather handsome in a gaunt, ruined and troubled sort of way. His face could suggest brutality, cruelty and violence – or precisely the opposite. It could be the face of a man who was stoically enduring these things, and quietly and heroically declining to reply in kind.”

So that’s the face. But what about Postlethwaite and politics? You may remember him as Mr Kobayashi in The Usual Suspects, or from other biggies like Alien 3, Amistad, The Constant Gardener, Inception, Romeo + Juliet or even Brassed Off. He went overtly political to promote the climate change film The Age of Stupid. Too soon to tell if that had the mind-changing impact it hoped for.

Pete Postlethwaite & Daniel Day Lewis (Giuseppe & Gerry Conlon in prison)

But there was one film that that perhaps did change the world – or at least the part where I come from. Jim Sheridan’s 1993 flick In the Name of the Father, about the wrongful arrest and imprisonment of the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven for IRA bomb attacks on two pubs in Guildford and another Woolwich, London, which killed five soldiers and two civilians, and injured 65 other people.

The Guildford Four were three young Irish men and a teenage English woman framed in 1975 by police and prosecutors . The Maguire (family) Seven were jailed for running a bomb factory based on confessions beaten out of the Guildford Four. The Seven included Giuseppe Conlon, father of one Gerry Conlon, one of the Four. The Four’s bombing convictions were eventually quashed in 1989, but not before Guiseppe died in prison.

In 2005 the UK Prime Minister Tony Blair apologised to the families of the eleven people imprisoned for the bombings: “I am very sorry that they were subject to such an ordeal and injustice… they deserve to be completely and publicly exonerated.” (It’s thought the bombings were most likely the work of an IRA Active Service Unit, known as the Balcombe Street Gang, who in 1977 claimed in court that they had carried out the bombings, not those who had been convicted.)

Paul Hill (married Courtney Kennedy), Gerry Conlon, Paddy Armstrong, Carole Richardson

And even after their release, for some the psychological wounds are still far from healed. One of the Guildford Four ended up marrying into the Kennedys. OK, now you’re feeling stirrings of sympathy.

The 4 and the 7, along with the Birmingham 6 and Judith Ward cases were miscarriage of justice cause celebres a while back. I supported in a minor way some of the campaigns to free them. It may have made no difference to their fate, but looking back now, it helps me feel my youth was not entirely wasted.

But back to the main point. What was the political impact I’m talking about? It was the powerful humanising performance of Pete Postlethwaite, as the wrongly convicted terrorist, which allowed people to think differently about those they had written off as mindless thugs, irreconcilable enemies or hopeless prisoners of history.

Here’s film critic Peter Bradshaw‘s take on it:

Patrick "Giuseppe" Conlon

Postlethwaite played Giuseppe Conlon, father of Gerry Conlon. Giuseppe is the innocent, law-abiding blue-collar guy in 70s Catholic west Belfast whose only concern is to stay out of the way of both police and Provos, and who senses that his tearaway son Gerry, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, is about to get into serious trouble. So he sends him to London, where Gerry gets fitted up for the Guildford pub bombings and where Giuseppe finds himself wrongfully arrested too, having come to London on a doomed mission to bring his boy home.

There is a scene of almost unbearable pain when Gerry discovers his father in the same prison, being humiliated by the prison guards, smothered with delousing powder. Postlethwaite’s face – stark and anguished like a ghost – made an unforgettable impression. The role earned Postlethwaite an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor, and I believe Postlethwaite’s overwhelmingly powerful performance as Giuseppe Conlon, the tragic, sacrificial figure who was to die in prison before his son is released, actually played an important part in popularising a new conciliatory mood in the political circles of 1990s Britain, which was to lead to the Good Friday agreement.

The Good Friday Agreement (signed 1998, effectively endorsed by voters both sides of the Irish border May 1998, came into force December 1999) established limited devolved government in Northern Ireland  and marked a significant reduction in violence.

So hooray for Pete. RIP

Thinking back to those miscarriage of justice cases involving Irish people, it’s no wonder some critics question the justice and wisdom of the current British control orders and secret trials of suspected Islamic terrorists – nor that some of the lawyers involved, notably Gareth Pierce (pictured), are one and the same. Plus ca change…



Filed under Film, politics

6 responses to “Movie star actually makes a difference. Shock.

  1. So do actors make a stronger and more meaningful statement in the parts they play or in the non theatrical activism as Hollywood citizens?

  2. Pingback: Q&A: What are signs of miscarriage beside bleeding? | Women and Pregnancy

  3. As you say, “What do they know about politics?”

    Maybe Pete Postlewaite was the exception to the rule … made a difference.

  4. I admire actors who don’t just sit back and enjoy the prominence and wealth they’ve earned, but who use it as best they can to better the lives of others. They might not always get it right, but I take my hat off to all who at least try.

  5. Bertha Debruce

    Great article.

  6. A Kering

    You are good.
    Write more.

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