Directors: Ken Loach
Cast: Barry Ward, Simone Kirby, Jim Norton, Brian F. O’Byrne, Andrew Scott
Running Time: 106 minutes
Release Date: May 30th
When Jimmy Gralton (Ward) arrives back into Leitrim from New York after a ten-year exile, he sets about helping his mother run the family farm, which in his absence has fallen into disrepair. As he re-enters town he pauses outside a run down community centre, the ‘Pearse-Connolly Hall’, that he is told has not been opened since his departure some ten years earlier. It turns out that Jimmy was in fact a communist of sorts who encouraged local people to broaden their horizons by attending a wide variety of personal development courses both academic and artistic in the hall. Being a Catholic country it was not long before the local priest, Fr. Sheridan (Norton), ensured Gralton had to leave in a hurry and when he returns the two go to war for hearts and minds again.
Ken Loach has dealt with the fallout from the Irish civil war before, but from a different point of view and with worrying and engaging consequences for the characters. It is a shame that he has failed to even come close with his latest effort as it falls short in many respects.
The entire endeavour feels as though it is incomplete or unexplored; particularly in identifying just how Gralton became involved in the community centre and the nuts and bolts of how he was initially forced to leave. The running time is probably in the region of 25 – 30 minutes too long for the story being told, and had they chosen to explore the aforementioned initial battle and subsequent return, it would have felt like a much more complete arc for the characters.
The love story between Ward’s Jimmy and Kirby’s Una is well played out on screen with one very tender moment as the pair dance in silence captured beautifully by Loach. Their love feels so real but, like the story of the hall, it feels as though you’ve missed something because the flash backs only give you so much and they’re just not enough. It is utterly frustrating that no matter how much Ward and Kirby try they can’t overcome the fact that the writing has left them with half their story. Add to this the unexplored relationship between the older and more prejudiced Fr. Sheridan and Andrew Scott’s open minded and intelligent Fr. Seamus and you’ll be pulling your hair out. He may not be with Jimmy Gralton but at least he has the balls to question the actions of the Catholic Church, not an easy position but definitely worth exploring more than a bunch of teenagers dancing in a hall. Scott shines in his limited screen time, but the underutilisation of both him and his character is bordering on criminal.
What Loach does do very well is frame his shots beautifully and in stunning light — as already mentioned, Gralton and Una dancing in silence — and he undoubtedly directs his actors well. That said, his reliance on locals rather than established actors to bring authenticity to the whole thing brings down the overall standard, yet it also helps to highlight how excellent Ward and Kirby are, win some lose some and all that.
Struggling to ever create a sense of peril and feeling like you’re only getting the second half of a very interesting story, Jimmy’s Hall fails to fully engage the audience which is a shame given the strength of the performances by ‘the actors’ involved.