Seventy-nine year old British director Ken Loach has been dealing with social issues in film since the early 1960’s and JIMMY’S HALL is no exception, based on a 10 year period in the life of Jimmy Gralton, a Leitrim (County in Ireland) Socialist - the only Irishman ever deported from Ireland in 1933. The clash between the Catholic Church, intermixed with local politicians and what they considered Stalinist/Communist ideas brewing in a small village’s Dance/Meeting Hall - built for the local community of farmers and laborers - teaching art, poetry, song, boxing classes, highlighting music and dance performances; a space to openly speak about landowner/working conditions.
I am a sucker for a good-looking Irishman, and Barry Ward is just that; he plays Jimmy who is expressive, passionate and a stirring advocate for basic individual freedoms. We meet him in 1932, after a forced 10 year exile in NYC, returning home to work on the family’s small plot of land at a “hopeful” time, a new government has come into power. Set amidst the rolling green hills of an idyllic village, Jimmy plans to settle down and help his elderly mother, a former librarian who years earlier drove around the rural area, bringing books - catalysts for ideas - to her neighbors. Life in 1932 is and is not the same - personal relationships have changed - former love interest Oonagh who fought at his side in earlier days, having not heard from him for a long time after Gralton was forced to flee Ireland in 1921, married a “solid” man from the hamlet and bore 2 children. Despite the years gone by, their deep connection has never come untethered and the tenderness between these two intense fighters for human rights is filmed in a lovely scene where they slowly move together, swaying under the pale light of unrealized dreams; fulfillment impossible.
JIMMY’S HALL is a movie about the pervasive paranoia and corruption of Ireland’s Government/Church partnership in maintaining “moral order” in a world that is absorbing new ideologies; where principles and tenets cannot be contained in ancestral and inbred receptacles. The community demonstrates an unrelenting courage and willingness to confront representatives of the power elite in their attempt to love, laugh, frolic, and examine doctrines that have been intrinsic to them - no longer isolated they dare to defy through unity thereby gathering courage. Director Ken Loach’s radiant portrayal of Jimmy Gralton resurrects a fighter whose name was all but forgotten. The combat against a powerful, intransigent armed state in 1932 seemed desperately futile, but history has proven otherwise.