“JIMMY’S HALL” My rating: A-
109 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
Brit filmmaker Ken Loach always has lept in where Hollywood fears to tread. For a quarter century he has been making overtly political films reflecting his leftist/humanist point of view. He’s never been a major box office force, but he’s always been a true artist.
“Jimmy’s Hall” is in many ways the perfect Loach film, a fact-based story depicting the external struggle of left-vs.-right without stooping to caricature or shrillness and overflowing with Irish song, dance and language.
Paul Laverty’s screenplay (based on Donal O’Kelly’s play) begins with the return to Ireland in 1932 of Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward), who has spent the last decade in exile in New York City. As we see in flashbacks, at the time of “the troubles” Jimmy ran afoul of the authorities for operating a “hall” on his rural property, a place where local folk could go to take classes in art and music, discuss literature and politics, and hold community dances.
Doesn’t sound particularly insidious, but Jimmy’s sin was to run his hall free of the control of the Church, for centuries (and for another 80 years) the dominant force in Irish life.
Once back in the neighborhood Jimmy is reunited with his mother (Aileen Henry) and with Oonagh (Simone Kirby), the girl he left behind who has since married and started a family. But it isn’t long before the rural folk are urging Jimmy to spruce up the dust-covered hall and start once again providing a place for common folk to gather to expand their minds and open their hearts.
Turns out that life in the new republic hasn’t improved appreciably for these hard-working but underemployed Irishmen. The owners of the big estates can still evict poor tenants for the slightest infraction or uppity behavior, and the Catholic Church — as embodied by Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) — once again is prepared to take on any challenge to its authority.
The film’s villains: masters and pastors.