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Jimmy’s Hall – Review


Release Date: 30 May 2014
Director: Ken Loach
Writer: Paul Laverty [Screenplay] - Donal O'Kelly [Play]
Cast: Barry Ward - Francis Magee - Aileen Henry



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Posted July 19, 2015 by

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Jimmy’s Hall Review:

Jimmy’s Hall is pretty good proof that even run-of-the-mill Ken Loach is better than most of what we get from movies today. To be sure, Loach’s latest (and possibly his last) film is a minor work from a man who has been championing the working classes and the disenfranchised for close to fifty years. It deals with the working poor and their relationship to their religion, but is not as finely etched a study as 1993’s Raining Stones. It dabbles in the issue of collective workers, but not to the extent of 2000’s Bread and Roses. And it uses the Irish struggle for independence in the early part of the 20th century as its backdrop, but with nothing approaching the raw power of The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006). The fun-loving youth of Jimmy’s Hall may suffer a beating or two – both verbal and physical – but you will not mistake this for 1969’s Kes.

But it is pointless to lament what Jimmy’s Hall is not. What it is is a pleasant story of the struggle for freedom of thought and expression by a group of salt-of-the-earth farmers and workers against the overbearing forces of the landed gentry and the Catholic Church. It is drawn from the story of Jimmy Gralton, exiled from his homeland for ten years after the War of Independence, and later permanently exiled in 1933. Loach and longtime screenwriter Paul Laverty focus their story almost entirely on Jimmy’s benevolent attempts to reopen his large meeting hall where literature and music and boxing are taught, and dances are held to the delight of the county’s more free-thinking youth and aged alike.

In purely cinematic terms, Jimmy’s Hall has a number of strengths, including Robbie Ryan’s lovely cinematography, and some very strong supporting performances from the likes of Francis Magee as Jimmy’s rough and tumble compatriot Mossie, Jim Norton as oppressive Father Sheridan, and especially non-professional actress Aileen Henry as Jimmy’s seemingly stoic mother, who continually reveals more layers in each of her scenes.

Unfortunately, at the center of it all, Barry Ward’s Jimmy is rather dull by comparison. There is a large gulf between the Jimmy that is talked about by both supporters and detractors – an inspiring man, a dangerous man – and the Jimmy we actually see. Ward has a few nice moments, and he certainly has the battered handsomeness that could inspire followers, but overall, there is not much there to build a movie around. In the several “discussion” scenes, in which small collectives of supporters discuss their next move, Jimmy is often silent while the other more animated characters go at it. This may be by design, with the implication being that Jimmy is in fact just your average Joe, and that by extension, any average Joe can become a leader. But that message doesn’t make for very good drama, as we are often left questioning the rationales of all involved.

The movie also seems to ignore some basic tentpoles of its own story. Though late in the film Jimmy will speak in the parlance of Communism, political talk and action are largely absent from the bulk of the story. The only political talk we get for most of the run comes from Jimmy’s adversaries in the government and in the pulpit. It feels at times as if Loach is shying away from overt statements in support of Communism, a topic he has never seemed shy about in the past. Then there is a supremely rose-colored scene in which Jimmy’s supporters, led by Jimmy himself, forcibly reinstate a poor family into their home after they have been evicted by an apoplectic landlord. That scene plays nicely, but the movie completely ignores the likely ramifications. We are asked to take on faith that the will of the people convinces the landlord not to retaliate with the force of the government, and some brutish police, behind him.

It is these kinds of abdications which can make Jimmy’s Hall seem more like a somewhat more stoic version of Footloose. And yet, Loach still has magic in his lens. Few directors have ever been as good at capturing the real-life humanity of small villages or small neighborhoods and the people who populate them. The scene in which Father Sheridan and his blue-nosed helpers mark down the names of the cretins who attend the first dance at the Hall is a beautiful blend of laughter and fear. The camaraderie on display in the numerous scenes in which the workers come together to build and argue and learn and dance is always palpable. And the relationship between Jimmy and Father Sheridan, two men who are genuinely frustrated by their inability to make the other see reason, is quite good. Perhaps not as good as Loach has communicated similar relationships in other stories, but again, average Loach is still worth a look. There are pleasures to be had and ideas to be considered, and whether it is his final film or not, those things make it worthy of attention.


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Jonathan Eig
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