Film Review: Jimmy’s Hall (2014). 3.5/5 Stars

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Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward).

The Irish war of independence (1919-1921) was not a forgone conclusion supported by the majority. There were many factions most notably those loyal to the British crown and in between were those caught between a rock and a hard place, the powerless working people whose story, shaped by oppression and famine, was the subject of another Ken Loach film ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ (2006).

Loach is a socialist filmmaker, that is: he makes films that explore the social condition of the powerless. He is a humanist filmmaker and ‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’ is a story that examines how the war of independence affected ordinary families from small rural communities struggling to remain whole through the wild storms of change largely beyond their ability to address or influence.

‘Jimmy’s Hall’ is set in the aftermath of the war when Ireland has achieved its emancipation, a victory that came with a high cost not least of which was the division of the island into two separate states. The process set families and neighbours against each other and though the dust has settled, wounds are still raw.

The war saw Jimmy Gralton, a non-conformist thinker who was not viewed kindly by the local ruling elite, forced out. He sought refuge in New York and ten years after the fact he returns home to find his peers struggling with economic and social forces that seem determined to undermine the rights promised by the new republic- the right to freedom of thought, expression and dignity.

Sinead O’Connor once famously said that it might have been better for the people of Ireland has they remained under British rule given the mixed blessings that came with the formation of the republic: a corrupt political system dominated by a patriarchal church determined to control the hearts and minds of the people and in this light and despite his better judgement Jimmy is once again drawn back into the fight against ignorance and fear.

The hall at the centre of the film is a welcoming place that is a beacon of light in a harsh world, a place where people can meet in peace to celebrate culture. It is a sanctuary dedicated to freedom of thought and expression and a thorn in the side of the local priest. In his eyes Jimmy and his hall (his hall because it was built on his families land) is a subversive concept that undermines the right of the church to determine what the people can or cannot think and feel.

‘Jimmy’s Hall’ is Loach’s final fling (he has since retired) and is a resounding farewell that reminds us of the dangers posed by those who would use fear and violence to stop us from being our authentic selves. A beautifully composed naturalistic film ‘Jimmy’s Hall’, based on the true story, is not a perfect film suffering some obvious narrative bumps as it does, but its sheer passion for life and liberty carries it along regardless. An allegory about the tensions that define social evolution, it is a delightful and affirming cinematic experience.

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