Starring Barry Ward, Simone Kirby, Jim Norton
Ken Loach once again tackles issues of social justice and the evils of entrenched power structures in this look at a slice of the life of Irish communist Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward), the only Irishman ever deported from the country.
It’s 1932 and, following a decade abroad, Jimmy Gralton returns to the family farm in County Leitrim to help his dear old ma out. He also reopens a disused hall for dances, lectures and general rabble-rousing, attracting the local youth and considerably irking the powers that be, particularly Father Sheridan (Jim Norton, familiar from – among other things – Father Ted). And so the stage is set for a clash of ideologies, with Jimmy’s free-thinking, working class socialism up against the Catholic Church and the conservative, newly minted Irish government.
This is familiar grist for Loach’s creative mill. As perhaps the most prominent social realist in the history of British cinema, he has spent his entire career championing the little guy, and the tribulations of Gralton and the milieu in which they play out are a perfect fit for both his political and his artistic concerns. For all that, Jimmy’s Hall is a middling effort from the venerable pot-stirrer. While there is no doubt that Loach’s convictions are firm, this is a quiet film, with the drama largely played out in dialogue and quiet confrontation rather than fiery rhetoric. It is also glacially paced – if you’re not engrossed by political discourse set against the beautiful backdrop of rural Eire, there’s not much here for you.
Still, it is fascinating to see a depiction of a time when even what we, as modern viewers, might consider the mildest dissent was ruthlessly opposed by the establishment. It’s both amusing and mildly horrifying to see Father Sheridan rail against the jazz music that Jimmy has brought back with him from the US – or, as Sheridan terms it, music from “darkest Africa.” Loach doesn’t exactly offer a balanced view here and there’s never any doubt whose corner he is in but would you expect anything different?
Jimmy’s Hall won’t win Loach any new fans, but it’s doubtful as to whether he’s interested in that sort of thing these days. Word is that this may be Loach’s fina film – his eyesight is failing – and, if so, while it doesn’t match the intensity of some of his earlier works, it amply demonstrates that he’s coming to the end of his career with his principles intact.
Jimmy’s Hall screens at Somerville, UWA from Monday, January 19, until Sunday, January 25, and at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tuesday, January 27, until Sunday, February 1, as part of Lotterywest Festival Films. For tickets and session times, go to perthfestival.com.au.