Review: Jimmy’s Hall

This simple story is carried off with all the zest and grit we expect from Ken Loach

Film Title: Jimmy's Hall

Director: Ken Loach

Starring: Barry Ward, Simone Kirby, Jim Norton, Andrew Scott

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 109 min

Thu, May 22, 2014, 15:55

   

In Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley, the winner here at Cannes in 2006, Sir John Hamilton, an Anglo-Irish squire, warns the revolutionaries to beware transferring power from one set of oppressors to another. In his latest film, Loach, and his regular writer, Paul Laverty, once again argue that just such a handover took place. The cops and the priests won, after all. Jimmy’s Hall, based on a play by Donal O’Kelly, is an exuberant piece – full of songs, jokes and pretty scenery – but the underlying message could hardly be gloomier. You’ve read the last page of Animal Farm, right?

Newcomer Barry Ward plays Jimmy Gralton, a socialist firebrand who, in the 1930s, returns from America to Leitrim and sets about re-establishing the local social hall as a centre for learning, music and political organisation. From the off, he finds himself in dispute with a grumpy priest played (with unavoidable suggestions of Bishop Brennan) by a malevolent Jim Norton. He is denounced from the pulpit. Eventually, moves are made to have him deported.

It’s a simple story, but it is carried off with all the zest and grit we expect from Loach. Ward makes a charismatic charmer of Gralton. The brief interplay between Norton and Andrew Scott, playing a younger, more liberal priest, is so tantalising we would like to see rather more of it.

There are some jarring notes, however. Loach’s penchant for casting non-professional actors allows unsatisfactory performances at the edge of the action. The relationship between Gralton and the priest is not quite so nuanced as the closing scenes imply.

Still, as a study of the sad decline of the founders’ socialist dreams, Loach’s film proves very satisfactory. If we are forced to mourn, let us do so at céilís such as this. The death was tragic, but the wake is an uncomplicated pleasure.