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MOVIE REVIEW: FTN reviews Jimmy’s Hall

May 28th, 2014 by Conor ONeill Comments

Jimmy’s Hall (12a)
Directed by: Ken Loach
Starring: Barry Ward, Simone Kirby & Andrew Scott
Running time: 109 mins

Described in the blurb as living legend Ken Loach’s ‘… latest and possibly final film’, Jimmy’s Hall is based on the true story of Jimmy Gralton’s infamous dance-hall in the early partition years, namely 1921 and 1922. Then, forced out by the Church and landlords who mistrust his folklore status among the people of the quiet cross-roads village in Leitrim, Jimmy heads off to the Big Apple where he immerses himself in the jazz scene. Returning home ten years later, Jimmy, played by Barry Ward (The Claim and Watchmen) receives nothing more that a pat on the back from his slightly idealised Irish mother.

With tales of the fame of the then Connolly Hall still fresh in many of the locals’ minds and highly exaggerated in those of the newer generation, Jimmy, who is now hoping for the quiet life, is spurred on to reopen the millstone around his neck; not that he doesn’t love it, but it pains him as he knows the likely repercussions. And his foresight is proven right.

The powers that be once again see the Hall, and especially Jimmy, as Communist intrusion into the natural order of things and the century old status quo of the Church’s reign over everything from education to leisure must be maintained. Armed with a gramophone, a few jazz records. ‘Imagine that, a black girl singing!’ Jimmy’s retort: ‘They also have two legs you know.’: a host of volunteers willing to teach the children everything from boxing to crafts and Gaelic, political discussion and most importantly how to swing with a capital SW, the pendulum must, well, swing. Enter Father Sheridan played with distinction by Jim Norton (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, American History X) a perplexing man who drinks his single malt every night and listens to blues records, but with only the interests if the Church on his mind. He and Jimmy spar it out in two crucial must-see scenes, the latter being Jimmy’s first confession in twenty-odd years. These scenes alone are worth the ticket price.

Sheridan, the Sheriff of Nottingham of the piece, having named and shamed those attending the Hall during a sermon the repercussions start to fly. Beatings, gunshots while the Hall is full of women and children, the divided community know that the renamed Pearse-Connolly Hall’s time is limited. That and possible the life of its founder. In an attempt to subdue Sheridan, Jimmy offers him a place on the Board of Trustees, such is the socialist nature of the hall. But with Sheridan ordering the deeds of the Hall to be handed over to the Church as part of the deal, the line is drawn in the sand: Gralton and his band of Reds must be subdued.

There is a tender subplot between Jimmy and his first love Oonagh played with great subtlety by Simone Kirby (RTE’s Pure Mule, Ophelia in Hamlet and Season of the Witch). Now married with children the tension of the will-they-won’t-they adds a deeply human side to Jimmy. Did they? Well you’ll just have to watch. With the hall inevitably razed to the ground and the authorities chasing our Irish almost modern day Robin Hood from safe-house to safe-house there’s only so long the long-arm of the law won’t grip the back of Jimmy’s collar.

By all means this is a good movie, but and it’s a tragic one, this is not up there with Cathy Come Home, Looking for Eric, or even 2006’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley, but if this does prove to be 77-year-old Loach’s last film he can rest assured he did not go out with a flop. Not an unmissable film by a long shot, but if you love Loach’s depiction of Irish history, of the sights and sounds of men digging turf, smoke filled cottages and liberal politics, chances are this is a film for you.

3 out of 5 Nerds

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Conor O'Neill is at times a playwright and a qualified journalist. He has worked for the Belfast Telegraph, Portadown Times and South Belfast Advertiser. He also contributes to various online e-zines, specialising in theatre, gig reviews and other cultural events. If you were to ask him what he does, he will say 'I'm functioning'... that's a lie. Best suited to pressure and deadlines, O'Neill thrives on the moment, the passion and the thrill of now, he's only happy when he's watching or reviewing a play.