Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day Lewis) was a small-time petty thief in the early seventies and found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time when IRA terrorists bombed a pub in 1974 - killing 4 people.
Totally innocent, Conlon is treated with contempt - even physically tortured and terrorized until he confesses only to make the torture stop.
Soon his father and most of his family are also convicted of bomb making and being part of larger conspiracies including being deeply entrenched in the IRA.
His father Giuseppe (played masterfully by Pete Postlethwaite) and most of his family are also rounded up and promptly convicted - from the youngest cousin to an elderly grandmother - all wrongly convicted and sent to bleak, dank prisons for very lengthy terms.
What makes this so compelling and tragic is that this is entirely a true story. Conlon really served 15 years in prison and thanks to his diligent attorney and the discovery of withheld evidence that freed him in 1989 - otherwise he may well still be languishing in jail, with little sympathy from the outside.
The only good side of this horrific twist of justice was the closeness Gerry ends up having with his father. Once somewhat distant, they find themselves as unwilling cellmates in prison. As miserable as they both are at the situation, the fact that they can keep each other company is a bittersweet comfort.
They grow closer than they likely would have ever gotten had they not been imprisoned together. Compounded by age and the damp, awful conditions of the prison, Giuseppe finds himself sicker and sicker until he is finally taken to the hospital all too late. Gerry is not permitted to be at his father's side as he is taken to the hospital, only to find out later that his father has died, leaving Gerry alone with no one to console his broken heart.
The injustice done to the "Guildford Four" in a small way was a necessary evil, in that it so shocked the conscience of British common man, that many reforms were put in to place to help prevent this sort of thing from happening again.
While Emma Thompson's character (Conlon's lawyer) doesn't make an appearance until near the end of the story, her presence is powerful and an important balance for the film.
Only someone with the stoniest of hearts will not feel at least a lump in their throat at many scenes of this well acted, compelling, real-life drama - nor will you finish watching it and not be changed in some way.