Director: Ken Loach
Starring: Barry Ward, Simone Kirby, Andrew Scott, Jim Norton, Brian F. O’Byrne
Written by: Paul Laverty and (based on the play) Donal O’Kelly
Running Time: 109 mins
Release date: 30th May 2014
Director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty have worked together for nearly twenty years and in that time they have built a reputation for highly polished, intelligent film making so when a new film from the pair hits the screen, you know you are not going to get any old junk. Jimmy’s Hall is no exception and a perfect example that even if you have the simplest of stories, you can create cinematic magic if the words are right, the performances are good and the director knows what he is doing.
Ireland in the 1930’s just after the “Red Scare” and jimmy Gralton has returned home from America, after he was forced to leave his native village for a hall he ran. Deciding not to cause anymore trouble, he wants to lead the quiet life until a group of youngsters, with nowhere to go, persuade him to reopen his hall and offer the community somewhere to dance, learn and debate. This angers the local priest, Father Sheridan, who was the man behind Gralton’s previous exile. While a conflict of power returns between the two men, Jimmy has to cope with his feelings towards Oonagh, the woman he left behind.
Loach is known for his more naturalistic style of film making and this is no exception. You feel that, even though this is a period piece, you are living in this world, and that Loach is giving us more a documentary than a drama. What works here is the simplicity of the storytelling. Based on true events, there is nothing more complicated than a battle over a hall, although the political and religious undertones push the events forward.
On the one side we have a simple man who wants to offer the small community somewhere to go, while on the other side we have the church, jealous of Jimmy’s popularity and the fact they have no control of what goes on in the hall. He is regarded as a Communist by those who stand behind Father Sheridan and they want nothing more but to shut him down before he causes a revolution. Hard to imagine but it all has to do with power and you find yourself increasingly getting more angry at the blinkered priest and his followers, all of which are wealthy landowners.
Having said that, and I don’t want to frighten you off implying that this is a politically or religiously heavy film, it’s the complete opposite. In fact, it’s Loach at his brightest, a feel-good drama with plenty to enjoy, from the gentle humour and Irish wit to the almost heartbreaking secret romance between Jimmy and Oonah. A sequence in which the pair slow dance without music is incredibly erotic and full of love without a scrap of clothing being removed. It’s one of the film’s more beautiful moments.
The performances from the mostly unknown cast, are perfectly in-tune with the rest of the film. Barry Ward, leading the pack as Jimmy, is an instantly likeable, warm character who gets pleasure from watching the faces of those enjoying the space he has provided. Simone Kirby is sweet as Oonah while Andrew Scott, Moriarty in Sherlock, is the one really recognisable face among the crowd as the youthful face of the church, Father Seamus.
It is Jim Norton’s performance as Father Sheridan, who really shines. A man devoted to his faith and yet not seeing the bigger picture, he is vile fellow who cannot accept that he cannot control everyone in his parish. You know that it’s an exceptional performance when you become angry at him and his ideas. In one scene when Jimmy offers him the opportunity to join the trustees of the hall, you could hear the hatred for him in the audience I saw the film with.
The last time Loach and Laverty worked together was on the 2012 The Angels’ Share, which ended up in my top ten for that year. It’s not as good as that but it does offer so many surprises, makes you think and you leave the cinema nodding, yes, this is a fine piece of cinema. Once again, all it takes is a simple story with no frills to win you over.