During the Depression, Jimmy Gralton returns home to Ireland after ten years of exile in America. Seeing the levels of poverty and oppression, the activist in him reawakens and he looks to re-open the dance hall that led to his deportation.
Ken Loach, the English filmmaker who has made such powerful films as “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” “Ladybird, Ladybird” and “Hidden Agenda,” is back with his latest feature, “Jimmy’s Hall,” a true story which occurred in Ireland in 1932. After having spent ten years in the United States, James Gralton (Barry Ward) decides to move back home to Ireland to help his mother run the family farm after his father passes away. Having made a name for himself with the younger generation in his village as the only man to leave and see the world, they flock to him and beg him to open the abandoned town hall, which has been closed for some time. They have no jobs, nowhere to hang out and the town hall would be the perfect place.
Initially hesitant to stir up any trouble with the local government and church, he eventually acquiesces and he and some of his friends, in their spare time, restore the old, dilapidated building and re-open it. Not just a haven for the young crowd, it becomes a sanctuary for those who wish to dance, study an assortment of classes or simply to talk. Because Jimmy is a free-thinker and is devoted to the emancipation of ordinary people through education, the local landowners and church make their indignation known to all and eventually, Jimmy is forced to close the hall. But not for long. Resentful that he gave in under pressure for no other reason than his adversaries were disgruntled, he re-opens the hall much to the delight of the villagers.
Granted, this comes at a cost. With locals who frequent the hall being victimized by the local police and their names being read aloud and shamed at church on Sunday service, and the fact that the Irish Republican Army are expressing an interest in Jimmy’s political ideals and pre-emigration connections, the hall is eventually burned to the ground by “unknown assailants” and Jimmy is deported back to the United States on the antiquated premise that he holds a U.S. passport, a procedure which has been used on previous political revolutionaries. While Ken Loach is renowned in the film industry as a director who has always elicited great performances from his actors, “Jimmy’s Hall” is no exception.
While the central performances are first-rate, the issue Mr. Loach seems to possess here, is which side of the story he wants to divulge. Instead of choosing a specific viewpoint, he literally seems torn between the two and try as he may, he just can’t liaison successfully in either direction to adequately give that particular perspective. We understand Jimmy’s standpoint but in listening to the village priest, Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) and his concerns, we acknowledge them also but it never goes any further than that. Both sides have strong arguments but when it comes right down to it, neither one is going to give in. A pity because there’s the making of a really great movie in there. Somewhere.
In select theaters Friday, July 24th
For more info about James visit his website at www.IrishFilmCritic.com