Civil blood makes civil hands unclean – ★
The main question you are left with at the end of Jimmy’s Hall is “Who is this film for?” Young people don’t watch old films so this 1930’s period drama set in post-civil war Ireland rules them out. It has no dramatic merits even though there are many opportunities and the love story is underdeveloped and unbelievable therefore ruling out most discerning filmgoers. If it is an older audience that Ken Loach wants to attract then he seems at a loss as, with a comical and “light touch” approach toward the institution of the church and state forces, he is doing a disservice to the generation of people who remember all too well the control these forces exerted.
Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) returns home to his native Leitrim after a ten year exile, the reasons for which become clear over the course of the film. Pestered by a gang of local children he decides to reopen the hall where he and his peers held dances, taught art and studied literature all without the consent of the local Catholic Church. Jimmy’s return opens up old wounds and causes fresh battle lines to be drawn. The fear of communism and people thinking for themselves with the threat of the ruination of the youth makes Jimmy and his hall public enemy number one.
There is a major misstep in the casting of Jim Norton as Fr. Sheridan who everyone knows as Bishop Brennan from Father Ted. While Norton is an excellent actor in his own right, the entire character is negated and loses all sense of menace because of his previous role. Some of the minor roles are amazingly badly acted and while Ken Loach is famous for his use of unknown actors, here it simply does not work giving the piece a truly amateur feeling. The point where Jimmy is apprehended by the Gardai descends into a scene reminiscent of the “Keystone Cops” and is a prime example of how the tone of the film is so badly judged. There are hints of the nefarious elements at work within the plain clothes detectives of the time but this is barely teased out and is an issue with great relevance for the Ireland of today.
The love story between Gralton and Oonagh (Simone Kirby) is not given the necessary time to grow which would allow us to believe the heartache felt between the pair. The fact that Oonagh is married with two children is never developed and could have been an excellent device for some believable drama.
Another missed opportunity is when the hall comes under attack. In what should have been a scene fraught with tension it is quickly resolved and we move onto to the next movement. The film is given no room to breathe; there are no lingering shots, instead a constant cluttering of bad dialogue. Kudos must be given to Ward and Kirby for some of the lines they had to utter to one another bringing to mind Harrison Ford’s thoughts on the Star Wars script.
Jimmy Gralton’s story is one worth telling as it captures the strife the losing side of the civil war endured and the strangle-hold held on society by the Catholic Church. Yet there is more drama, insight and commentary in one page of a John McGahern novel than in this entire film. The blame must rest at the feet of Loach, the scriptwriter Paul Laverty and casting director Kahleen Crawford for such a badly executed film and wasted opportunity.
Released nationwide on Friday 30th of May 2014