Directed by Ken Loach
Starring Barry Ward, Simone Kirby, Jim Norton, Andrew Scott and Brían F. O'Byrne
In the 1930s political activist Jimmy Gralton is deported from Ireland during the 'Red Scare'.
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★★★★ review by Mark Cunliffe on Letterboxd
"It's still the same opposition, the masters and the pastors"
This passing remark in Paul Laverty's script for Ken Loach's latest film may as well be used to sum up the targets both Laverty and Loach have had in their sights since their collaborative partnership commenced almost twenty years ago. And I'm pleased to say they haven't lost their skill at hitting these targets yet.
Jimmy's Hall tells the true story of Jimmy Gralton, an Irish socialist who was deported from his native country without trial in 1933. His crime was to have built and established a voluntary run public hall in County Leitrim; a place for the community, for education and leisure - specifically dances that featured both traditional music and the jazz that Gralton had brought back from America.
Why was that a crime? Well back in the day the Catholic Church had the sole responsibility of educating the people and, fearful Gralton was teaching them the atheist communism he was so often accused of supporting, as well as losing out on money from such an operation (as an independent 'by the community for the community' led hall no schooling fees or rent was going to the Parish coffers) they resorted to desperate and violent measures to close down Jimmy's operation. There was also the small matter of Jimmy challenging the 'rights' of the landed gentry to kick families off their land at the drop of hat.
It's a thoughtful and powerful tale blessed by two incredibly good performances by Barry Ward as Jimmy Gralton and, as his rival, Jim Norton as Father Sheridan. Idealistic, poetic and incredibly clear it occasionally reminded me of something like The Grapes of Wrath, which is praise indeed. It would be a great shame indeed if this was, as rumoured, Loach's final (dramatic) film.
★★★½ review by Steven Sheehan on Letterboxd
Ken Loach's last film (last feature film at anyway) sees him return back to an era that earned him the Golden Palm back in 2006. Ten years on from the end of the war of Irish independence and subsequent twelve month civil war, a new Government was put in place hoping bring some stability to the country. It was also a time when the Catholic Church exerted its influence into the newly formed political state.
The story of James Gralton, the only Irishman to ever be deported from the country, sets the context for Loach's real target which is the church. He was accused of being a communist shortly after his return from a ten year exile in America, galvanising the locals in County Leitrim to resurrect a local hall. In a region where the lower classes struggled to get by, the hall offered a place of escape, a space where people, young and old, could come to dance, sing, talk and express themselves.
Gralton's main opposition comes from the church in the form of local priest Father Sheridan. He is representative of a time where the power of the Catholic institution was at its strongest in the country, influencing Government policy and striking fear into the families looking for security and hope of a better future. Gralton's ideas threatened to undermine their grip over the nation and so he was dealt with in harshest manner, shipped back to America without a trial.
All of Loach's familiar traits run through the film and even in his late 70's the integrity that has always propelled his storytelling still burns as brightly. As there was in Barley key discussions take place in extended shots, the small pauses and stammers that occur as the actors momentarily lose the flow of the script adds to the honesty of the words being spoken. A tender love story plays out within this community battle between two people unable to overcome the time and distance that has left them unable to satisfy their affection for each other, adding a heart to the social struggle.
Jim Norton delivers the overbearing nature of Father Sheridan with calm authority, whilst Barry Ward universally reawakens the passion of Gralton, a history degree not being necessary to understand his idealistic standpoint. The church has lost much of its dominance in recent years, hit by appalling revelations. This film feels timely in that regard, a reminder of the strength it once held and how far behind the times it had been for so long.
★★★★ review by Kevin Wight on Letterboxd
If Jimmy's Hall does turn out to be Ken Loach's final film as has been reported, I would be surprised given the old lefty's fairly prolific output in the last few years. If the rumours are true though it would be a rather beautiful little coda that hits all the right notes of elegy.
Based on the life of Irish political activist James Gralton, Jimmy's Hall depicts the return to rural County Leitrim of the titular character in the early 1930s after a decade of exile in New York. Jimmy had ruffled the feathers of the Catholic authorities and the local landowners and was spirited away for his own safety. On his return he is persuaded to reopen the local hall he established in which was taught dancing and literature and, by extension, the new leftist ideas that were not at all sanctioned by the powers-that-be.
Jimmy is played by Barry Ward as a man of easy charm and a quiet strength that make others follow him. He's not the hectoring and stentorian Bolshevik that most would associate with early 20th century Communism, but it's more than enough for the parish's moral guardian Father Sheridan (Jim Norton, also known as Father Ted's Bishop Brennan, and another character you hope will get a kick up the arse).
The plot itself never deviates from the path of any other story about one man coming up against the overwhelming odds of repressive societal mores; but for a left-leaning individual like myself who believes that religion is responsible for more than a few of our problems and Catholicism is particularly pernicious poison, this all plays like music to my ears and gets the fires of righteous rage burning.
Although the ideological forces are still strong with this one, Loach and frequent screenwriting collaborator Paul Laverty are even-handed in their approach, with Andrew Scott's Father Seamus providing a decent and modern voice from the clergy and even Father Sheridan comes to respect Jimmy's courage and decency.
Also, there is so much joy at work here. This is a celebration of a good man's work as well as mourning for its curtailment. There is much laughter to be had in the natural interplay between his friends and collaborators, and the musical interludes of the social gatherings are infectious whether they're traditional Irish reels or the new-fangled jazz Jimmy has soaked up on his travels.
This is a thoroughly gorgeous film, even if it does follow a completely standard storytelling path. I was moved to the occasional tear on a number of occasions, not least through Jimmy's passionate but necessarily chaste relationship with Oonagh (Simone Kirby). While Loach is still capable of turning out joyous gems like this one we would have to consider a wee bit of a tragedy if he decides to hang up his camera now.
★★★★ review by El on Letterboxd
Jimmy's Hall completely transported me back in time to that quaint little village in the beautiful Irish countryside, I really believed in and cared about all of the characters. The film managed to uplift me in the characters' moments of happiness and it also managed to make me tear up a bit in their sadder moments. The film also does well in injecting bits of humour here and there, my favourite bit being the scene where Jimmy's mum locks the policemen in her house and they try and climb out the window. I really liked how they did the ending because it's a tragic ending but they didn't milk it or over-dramatise it but they also didn't try to soften it. The film was gorgeous visually too, the outdoor scenes were very lush and green, the scenes inside the hall's parties were warm and energetic and nothing was too overstated. Also I'm a bit of a sucker for Irish jig music and I could see other people in the cinema bobbing along in their seats too.
★★★½ review by loureviews on Letterboxd
"his mother ran a mobile library. Never patronise the self-taught man, especially someone who worked down the mines."
Ken Loach, when not looking at the condition of the working class British, is rather pre-occupied with an Ireland with which he seems to have constant Republican sympathies; and into this aspect of film-making comes the tale of Jimmy Gralton, deported from Ireland because he and a group of volunteers opened a hall and offered classes in singing and dancing and the like to keep up the collective spirits.
With a screenplay from his long-time close collaborator, Paul Laverty, and cinematography by Robbie Ryan, this film benefits from finely nuanced performances from Dublin-born Barry Ward as Jimmy, and Jim 'Bishop Brennan' Norton as Father Sheridan.
Set in 1932-3 this film is signposted by on-screen notes about the Irish-British Civil War, which still cast a shadow a decade after completion, and looks at the conflict between the ever-powerful Catholic Church, the state, and the fledgling IRA. There's also the jazz and free-n-easy influence of the United States, where Gralton had spent some time before returning to his native land.
The real Gralton was in his late forties at deportation, dying just twelve years later in his adopted USA. As a labour campaigner and Communist leader, he had values which are clearly close to the hearts of Loach and Laverty, but for this particular film I found the plot didn't quite get where it promised to go.
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