See this film for its lovely cinematography of Joss Barratt,a mixture of sepia, blue-dust shuttered haze, and fresh and verdant Irish-green countryside. See it as an Irish history lesson (1922-23), when the pro-treaty Irish forces backed by the British caused a Civil War, and see “Jimmy’s Hall” for a bitter-sweet story of a lesser-known Irish icon,Jimmy Gralton, played charmingly by Barry Ward. Most of all, see it for the passionate “confessional box” scene where the maverick Jimmy berates Father Sheridian (Jim Norton) for never listening but when people are on their knees.
Richard Wright,one of America’s famous ex-pat novelists, wrote that “literature is protest”.The same can be said of film. Plus, injustice fires the pen. Certainly, the Scott’s-Irish lawyer and screenwriter Paul Laverty knows how to frame Jimmy’s story. Much of the dialogue pits the Communist Jimmy against the estate owners and the powerful Catholic Church hierarchy with their “hand in the till”. In one stunning set -piece Gralton makes his point to the parish priest, ” (you think)..the interests are the same? Do you think the system seeped in allusion and avarice works for need and not for greed.?”
This working-class film begins with Jimmy’s return to his thatched-roofed home and to his lonely mother after the death of his brother Charlie. He has been in America,in New York City- far from the peat bogs and wet ash pits. We learn from his mother that ” scars on the heart take a long time to heal”. The Church is given a balanced reading in the addition of the younger Father Seamus (Andrew Scott). He fears that the Church will lose the youth of the parish if Fr.Sheridian keeps haranguing with his question,”What is this obsession with pleasure?!”
The Patrick Pearse and James Connelly Community Center draws a bigger crowd than the parish dances. Gaelic song,Yeat’s poetry,and art and boxing lessons and the introduction of Jazz to the traditional clogging beat Jimmy sees as working for the common good of the people. The fact that the Hall is named for two heroes of the 1916 Easter Uprising against the British plays into the opposition’s venom. “The venom in their hearts for all they can’t control” are Jimmy’s words. He is gaining too much influence and is seen as “the cock of the walk” in the political unrest.
In flashback, we learn that Jimmy had been deported from Ireland ten years ago.He never was given a trial. His exile cost him the love of his life. Simone Kirby plays that love,Oonaugh Dempsey. She is calm,understated and clearly -though married and the mother of two children-still in love with Jimmy Gralton.In a beautifully atmospheric scene,they dance alone in the hall. The sexual tension is heart-breaking. To borrow a line from the film their attraction is more of a moth to the flame than a dog to a post.His “I wish we had another life to lead” says it all.
Director Ken Loach has kept the film lengthy;but on review,I don’t know what I would have taken out.I loved the detail of Yeats being read,and JMJ heading the students’ papers and art work. The pulpit lecture with the reading-out of the names of the “debased” was humorous as was Fr. Sheridian’s lament of evil hatching in the hall “starting with feet and working toward the brain”. Earls commandeering land,brown-wool-vested gangs,cottage evictions,fiddles and fathers lashing their violins and their daughters all added to the aura.
In the end, Jimmy’s mam (Aileen Henry) says it best “I might lose a child,but Ireland loses much,much more”. I felt this way when Jimmy Gralton went to the rectory and said “Come to have my devil horns put on”, and then asked Fr. Sheridian to join the Community Center’s Board. When Jimmy accuses the old priest of “having more hate in your heart than love”, his words sting. Father admits that Jimmy can’t be bought and that he has courage and decency.We smile and don’t smirk as we see the priest listen to a jazz record as he has a wee dram before bed.
Enjoy the effective use of stop action as “the pied piper” is led away and the young promise to keep dancing and dreaming. Jimmy died on December 29th in 1945 in New York City. He was forbidden to ever return to his birthplace Effrinagh or to his Mother Ireland.