The Movie Waffler New Release Review - <i>Jimmy's Hall</i> | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Jimmy's Hall

In 1930s Ireland, a returning emigrant raises the ire of the Catholic Church by reinstating a local dance hall.

Directed by: Ken Loach
Starring: Barry Ward, Simone Kirby, Andrew Scott, Jim Norton, Francis Magee

In 1932, Jimmy Gralton (Ward) returns to the family farm in rural Ireland after a decade spent working in New York. Encouraged by the young people of his town, Jimmy reopens a local hall that had once served as a meeting place for those wishing to broaden their education, indulge in poetry and art, or enjoy a raucous evening of dancing. The hall is a huge success but provokes the ire of the local priest, Father Sheridan (Norton), who views it as a breeding ground for socialism and atheism. With the local police, the town's landlords and the church all united in violent opposition to the hall, Jimmy finds his life, and those of his friends, in danger.
Rumour has it that Jimmy's Hall is to be 77-year-old Ken Loach's final film, ending a career that began in 1967 with his kitchen sink debut Poor Cow. Whether or not this is true remains to be seen, but what is almost certain is that this will be his last movie to be shot on 35mm. Actual film stock is now so hard to come by that Loach was forced to send out an appeal to the film-making community for any stock that was lying around unused. A host of film-makers rummaged through their vaults and came to his aid. The film was then cut by hand by Loach and his editor Mike Andrews, likely the last time this practice will ever be implemented on a British film.
The resulting movie is a hybrid of the more populist fare Loach has given us recently (The Angels' Share, Looking For Eric) and his traditional, politically charged works (The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Hidden Agenda). It's an uncomfortable fit. At times the humour is so broad that the depiction of rural 1930s Ireland resembles a BBC period comedy, with a scene involving bungling cops attempting to chase down Jimmy coming across like an outtake from seventies sitcom Dad's Army. These sort of moments, which, it has to be admitted, have a degree of charm, mix awkwardly with the many scenes of socialist debate that pad out the film. It's these sequences that are the least successful, as the dialogue feels unnatural; characters don't speak here so much as pontificate.
The acting is likewise an uneasy blend of very impressive, naturalistic turns from the leads (Ward is charismatic in the title role, as is Norton as his antagonist) and embarrassingly amateurish performances from the minor characters.
In reality, Gralton was indeed everything the Catholic Church accused him of being, yet Loach is very selective in his portrayal of the man. The scenes in the hall merely show enthusiastic locals enjoying readings of Yeats' poetry, art classes and live jazz sessions (the latter of which seems quite implausible for 1930s rural Ireland; where did they get the instruments and lessons?), rather than the readings of Marx and other communist writers of the time that were par for the course in Jimmy's real life hall. If this is indeed to be Loach's final film, lacking the courage of his socialist convictions means he'll go out with a whimper rather than the bang we might have expected from such a confrontational film-maker.

Eric Hillis