Not including television work and documentaries, Ken Loach’s new film, titled Jimmy’s Hall, is his twenty-first.
Screenwriter Paul Laverty has worked with Loach and written twelve of them. Saying this, one could easily decry the collaborative team as being placid or unadventurous in their choices. It’s just not so. Their 2006 film, The Wind That Shakes The Barley (Loach’s sixteenth film by the way) not only won the coveted Palme d’Or at that year’s Cannes Film Festival, but it’s his unapproachable masterpiece. In a career spent depicting the kitchen-sink realism of its working class individuals or the tumultuous forces that have given birth to so many of the United Kingdom’s ideals and formative struggles, Loach hasn’t given up yet. And Jimmy’s Hall proves that.
Beginning in 1932 and a mere ten years after the end of a violent civil war between Pro-British treaty supporters and nationalist forces, exiled Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) returns home to a divided Ireland. Initially running from his homeland to America after members of the community leveled accusations of communism at him, his only sin seemed to be the organization of a community hall where more progressive minds gathered to teach dance, art and discuss local ownership of the farms and houses.
Simpy wanting to resume his life with aging mother (a wonderfully realized performance from amateur actress Eileen Henry) and friends such as Oona (Simone Kirby), Mossie (Francis Magee) and Finn (Shane O’Brien), Jimmy soon becomes embroiled in a conflict with the old regime, first led by local priest Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) and then followed by British loyalist Dennis (Brian O’Byrne), who won’t allow Jimmy those subtle pleasures due to his past associations.
Things get even more heated when the youth of the town (including Dennis’ own daughter, played fiercely by Aisling Franciosi) persuade Jimmy to re-open the hall where they can freely dance and express themselves beyond the stagnant, bored oppression of their parents. Like the bloodshed that would slowly mount in many other Loach films, Jimmy’s Hall builds to an undeniable collision between the two staunch sides of idealism. It’s to Loach’s mastery of the material that the most damning and explosive scene in the entire film doesn’t involve guns, but the words of father Sheridan publicly shaming those who attended one of the sessions at Jimmy’s hall during a Sunday sermon. It’s only fitting that one character remarks “all this over a four walled tin shack.”
Based on the true story of Jimmy Gralton, Jimmy’s Hall is as delicate in its characterizations as its craftsmanship, built around warm, natural lighting and slowly roving camera that manages to capture so many voices and reactions throughout the boisterous scenes. This is a film built around faces and the ideas that slowly erode innocence. The confrontations between Jimmy and his supporters versus the town officials exude so much energy and force of will that they dare the viewer not to become enraptured in the film’s quiet anger. Even if the overriding theme is “the man” against Jimmy Gralton, Loach quickly swerves and creates an atmosphere of youthful revolt where it not only becomes the modern world versus the old one, but the children against their parents.
In a career full of hits and misses (and more hits than misses), Loach has yet to abandon this universal theme. After all, everyone harbors a four-walled tin shack somewhere in our memories and would fight vigorously to protect it.
Jimmy’s Hall opens on Friday, July 24 at the Angelika Dallas and Angelika Plano.