×

Cannes Film Review: ‘Jimmy’s Hall’

The latest activist drama from the elder statesman of British political cinema is a heartfelt portrait of ideological warfare in 1930s Ireland.

With:
Barry Ward, Francis Magee, Aileen Henry, Simone Kirby, Stella McGirl, Sorcha Fox, Martin Lucey, Mikel Murfi, Shane O’Brien, Denise Gough, Jim Norton, Aisling Franciosi, Sean T. O’Meallaigh, Karl Geary, Brian F. O’Byrne, Conor McDermottroe, John Cronogue, Seamus Hughes, Andrew Scott, Michael Sheridan, Rebecca O’Mara, Diane Parkes. (English dialogue)

Ken Loach has taken a despicable episode of modern Irish history — the 1933 deportation without trial of one of its own citizens, James Gralton — and made a surprisingly lovely, heartfelt film from it with “Jimmy’s Hall.” A thematic sequel of sorts to his Cannes-winning “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” Loach’s 24th fiction feature finds the activist-minded director trafficking in familiar themes of individual liberties, institutional oppression and the power of collective organizing, here infused with a gentle romanticism that buoys the film without cheapening the gravity of its subject. All told a minor-key but eminently enjoyable work by a master craftsman, the pic opens next week in the U.K. and has been picked up by Sony Classics for the States.

Although it’s set a decade after the bloody War of Independence depicted in “Wind,” “Jimmy’s Hall” unfolds against a nation still sharply divided along political and religious lines. Back before the war, Jimmy (Barry Ward) had founded the Pearse-Connolly community hall in the southern Irish county of Leitrim, which became a home to dances and classes in art, music, literature and sport. All that brought the hall, and Jimmy himself, under the intense scrutiny of the local Catholic leaders, who considered education their exclusive purview and saw the hall as a threat to their sovereignty. So Jimmy fled to New York, and when “Jimmy’s Hall” opens in 1932, he has only just returned, to help his elderly mother (the excellent Aileen Henry) run the family farm following the death of his brother.

It doesn’t take long before the bored local youths persuade Jimmy to reopen the shuttered hall, now lying in a state of dusty disrepair, and for a while the movie comes to resemble one of those Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland musicals, with everyone from miles around pitching in to help restore Pearse-Connolly to its former luster. Of course, all such stories must have a threatened, uncomprehending villain, and “Jimmy’s Hall” (which was written by regular Loach collaborator Paul Laverty) serves up a choice one in the form of parish priest Father Sheridan (Jim Norton), who takes to Jimmy’s return much as John Lithgow’s puritanical reverend in “Footloose” took to Kevin Bacon. Jazz is the devil’s music, he tells his congregation, warning against the “Los Angelization of our culture” and finally offering an ultimatum: “Is it Christ or is it Gralton?” To Loach and Laverty’s credit, however, they stop short of turning Sheridan into a caricature, depicting him as a man of principle who believes in his view of the world as fiercely as Gralton does in his.

If the plotting in Loach’s film sometimes verges on the rote, the emotions are typically full and satisfying, especially in the scenes between Jimmy (impressively played by Ward as a noble man of action) and his erstwhile sweetheart Oonagh (porcelain-eyed Simone Kirby), who couldn’t travel to America with him back then and now finds herself another man’s wife. Though their tragic romance is one of several fully fictionalized elements Laverty and Loach have injected into Gralton’s narrative, it nevertheless serves to deepen the film’s sense of a nation haunted by its past, and of the sacrifices made by individuals in the name of their ideals. In one especially tender scene, they dance silently in the darkened hall, swaying to the music in their heads and hearts.

Alas, Bessie Smith isn’t the only thing Jimmy has to blame for his troubles. As the hall grows in popularity, it also becomes a locus of community activism, particularly for those rallying against the forced eviction of poor tenants from the estates of wealthy landowners. This allows Loach to stage several of the talky but stimulating ideological tennis matches that were hallmarks of both “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” and the earlier “Land and Freedom,” and while some knowledge of the era’s Irish political landscape may be helpful to gleaning some of the film’s nuances (such as the ideological divides between liberal and conservative elements within the IRA), no prerequisites are needed to understand Gralton as a man of the people who rises to the occasion at enormous risk to his own future.

Loach’s filmmaking here has an elegant simplicity and flow from one scene to the next, enhanced by the subtle but beautifully detailed work of production designer Fergus Clegg and costume designer Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh. Shooting on 35mm film, d.p. Robbie Ryan makes fine use of natural light, and bathes the dance-hall scenes in a warm gaslamp glow.

Cannes Film Review: 'Jimmy's Hall'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 22, 2014. Running time: 109 MIN.

Production: (U.K.-Ireland-France) A Le Pacte (in France)/eOne (in U.K.)/Sony Pictures Classics (in U.S.) release of a Sixteen Films/Why Not Prods./Wild Bunch/Element Pictures production in association with BFI, Film4, Irish Film Board, France 2 Cinema, Canal +, Cine +, Le Pacte, Les Films du Fleuve, Longride Inc. and France Televisions. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Rebecca O’Brien. Executive producers, Pascal Caucheteux, Gregoire Sorlat, Vincent Maraval, Andrew Lowe, Ed Guiney.

Crew: Directed by Ken Loach. Screenplay, Paul Laverty. Camera (Deluxe color, 35mm), Robbie Ryan; editor, Jonathan Morris; music, George Fenton; production designer, Fergus Clegg; art director, Stephen Daly; costume designer, Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh; sound (Dolby Digital), Ray Beckett; supervising sound editor, Kevin Brazier; re-recording mixers, Ian Tapp, Andrew Caller; stunt coordinator, Paul Heasman; assistant directors, David Gilchrist, Michael Queen; casting, Kahleen Crawford.

With: Barry Ward, Francis Magee, Aileen Henry, Simone Kirby, Stella McGirl, Sorcha Fox, Martin Lucey, Mikel Murfi, Shane O’Brien, Denise Gough, Jim Norton, Aisling Franciosi, Sean T. O’Meallaigh, Karl Geary, Brian F. O’Byrne, Conor McDermottroe, John Cronogue, Seamus Hughes, Andrew Scott, Michael Sheridan, Rebecca O’Mara, Diane Parkes. (English dialogue)

More Film

  • Aisling Franciosi

    European Film Promotion Unveils 2019 Shooting Stars

    Aisling Franciosi (“The Nightingale”), Ardalan Esmaili (“The Charmer”) and Elliott Crosset Hove (“Winter Brothers”) are among the 10 actors and actresses who have been named as the European Film Promotion’s Shooting Stars. Previous Shooting Stars include Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Pilou Asbæk and Baltasar Kormákur. The new crop of up-and-coming talent for the 22nd edition of [...]

  • Jodie Foster'Money Monster' photocall, Palais, 69th

    Film News Roundup: Jodie Foster to Direct, Star in Remake of Icelandic Thriller

    In today’s film news roundup, Jodie Foster is remaking Iceland’s “Woman at War,” the Art Directors Guild honors production designers Anthony Masters and Ben Carre, “47 Meters Down: Uncaged” gets cast and Melissa Takal directs “New Year New You” for Hulu. PROJECT ANNOUNCEMENT More Reviews Concert Review: Maxwell Brings Down the House at Rapturous Hometown [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Jake Gyllenhaal to Star in Remake of Denmark's Oscar Entry 'The Guilty' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bold Films, and Jake Gyllenhaal and Riva Marker’s Nine Stories banner have acquired the rights to remake the Danish thriller “The Guilty,” with Gyllenhaal attached to star. The pic won the world cinema audience award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and was also named one of the top five foreign language films of 2018 by [...]

  • Toxic Avenger

    'Toxic Avenger' Movie in the Works at Legendary

    Legendary Entertainment is developing “The Toxic Avenger” as a movie after acquiring the feature film rights. Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz of Troma Entertainment will serve as producers. Alex Garcia and Jay Ashenfelter will oversee for Legendary. More Reviews Concert Review: Maxwell Brings Down the House at Rapturous Hometown Show Film Review: 'Jirga' Kaufman and [...]

  • Constance Wu

    'Crazy Rich Asians' Star Constance Wu in Negotiations for Romantic Comedy

    “Crazy Rich Asians” star Constance Wu is in talks to join Sony’s Screen Gems’ untitled romantic comedy, with Elizabeth Banks and Max Handelman producing. “GLOW” actress Kimmy Gatewood is making her feature directorial debut on the project. She will be directing from a Savion Einstein script about a woman who becomes pregnant with two babies [...]

  • Maggie Gyllenhaal AoA

    Maggie Gyllenhaal on Why a Woman Director Doesn't Automatically Make a Story More Feminine

    Having a female director doesn’t automatically make a story more feminine, says “The Kindergarten Teacher” star Maggie Gyllenhaal, but when it comes to her film with director Sara Colangelo, she says the female narrative is fully encapsulated. “Just because something is written or directed by a woman doesn’t necessarily make it a feminine articulation,” she says [...]

  • Kevin Hart Hurricane Harvey

    Academy Looks Warily at Oscar Host Options as Board Meeting Looms

    Kevin Hart’s abrupt departure as Oscars host has left the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences scrambling to find someone to take the gig. As of now, the situation remains fluid as the group’s leadership explores options, including going host-less, individuals familiar with the situation told Variety. The Academy was blindsided by Hart’s announced departure Thursday [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content