16 Oct Jimmy’s Hall (UK)
SUNDAY 11 February 10.00 am
TUESDAY 13 February 8.15 pm
RUNNING TIME 109 minutes
After a decade in New York where he immigrated, political activist Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) returns to Ireland. There he rebuilds the dance hall he originally created in 1921 for the young people to learn, argue and dream, as well as dancing and having fun. But not everyone embraces Jimmy’s free-thinking ideas and ideals.
REVIEW BY LOUISE KELLER
The peaceful Irish setting is a sharp contrast to the fiery passions that rage in Ken Loach’s film about civil liberties and free speech. Set for the most part in 1932, Paul Laverty’s screenplay envelops us in the world and mindset of the local people of the county of Leitrim, where the church heads a psychological war against anyone who fails to conform. The screenplay marries historical facts about political activist and communist leader Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) with a personal tale that Loach wraps delicately in a gentle narrative.
The lush green fields of Ireland and beautiful cinematography provide our first impressions as we learn about the life and times of free-thinker and communist, Jimmy Gralton. It takes a little time to get into the story’s rhythms as Jimmy returns to his home after 10 years in New York. “Nobody’s the same after 10 years away,” his former girlfriend Oonagh (Simone Kirby) tells him when he responds “Same as ever” to her question. Although she has married someone else and has a couple of children, we can sense that nothing has changed between her and Jimmy.
Jimmy’s return prompts a renewed yearning for more than survival by the community. They want to live and celebrate life. The church hall that Jimmy fixed up 10 years earlier for art classes, boxing, gymnastics, woodwork, literature, dancing, music and poetry readings is reopened. Jimmy’s hall offers an enticing environment.
The single-minded attitudes by Father Sheridan (Jim Norton, excellent) are promoted through his sermons, warning the locals of the dangers in frequenting the hall. “There’s fire in his soul and a plan in his head” he says of Jimmy, adding that he was “crushing the Irish language, traditional songs and dance”. In this day and age, it is difficult to understand the objections to the activities, prompting fear that the elegance and beauty of Irish dances might be replaced by “the sins of jazz music and the rhythms from darkest Africa when pelvic thrusts may poison the minds”.
Especially moving is the intimate sequence in which Jimmy and Oonagh dance – to imagined music that plays in their hearts – after she puts on the dress he has brought her from NY. Also powerful is Jimmy’s “We are all one people speech”, following the protest resulting from the unwarranted eviction of tenants from the estates of wealthy landowners.
Loach has sculptured an engaging film that offers a rewarding insight into turbulent times, when Jimmy’s Hall was a catalyst to bring out the best in everyone.