Monday, 14 July 2014

Jimmy’s Hall.

A painting of Jimmy Gralton.
Perhaps following the success of his latest film Ken Loach can be persuaded to rescind his claim that (2014) will be his last feature film? Along with regular’s producer Rebecca O’Brien and writer Paul Laverty Britain’s greatest living director has made a welcome follow up to his award winning homage to communism The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006). In this Loach drew a parallel between the battle for freedom and democracy in Spain during its Civil War 1936 -1939 (see Land of Freedom 1995) and the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921), and the subsequent Civil War (1921-1922). It raised the question of what kind of Ireland was being fought for? As the director said ‘both in Spain and Ireland there were two questions. The first in Spain, was how do we beat the Fascists? And in Ireland, how do we get the imperialists out? Then the question was, if we achieve that, what kind of society could we create? If you’re risking your life for something, you want to know what you’re risking it for. It’s a very political event of real consequence[1] From James Connolly’s[2] famous 1897 essay Socialism and Nationalism. ‘If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you organise a socialist Republic, your effects will be in vain, England will still rule you through her landlords, capitalists and commercial institutions’. Change the ‘English army’ to the Westminster government, and obviously change the flag, and Connolly’s quote could refer to Scottish independence!!
Persuaded by the local youngsters to rebuild the hall.
In this new piece of work Loach tackles a rather smaller part of Irish history but no less important, the story of Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) and his community hall in County Leitrim originally named after two of the leaders of the failed 1916 Easter Rising Padraig Pearce and James Connolly and built by Gralton in the 1920’s. Laverty’s screenplay is based on the true story of Gralton who was an Irish communist leader who travelled to America and became an US citizen in 1909 after his life was put in danger. Ten years after the end of the Irish Civil War (1922 -1923) he returns to Ireland to work on his mother’s farm following his brother’s death. Against his wishes and knowing it would open old wounds, he is persuaded by the local youngsters bored with their mundane lives to renovate and reopen the hall as a place of culture, art, sport and dancing much to the disgust of the ‘masters and pastors’ the local landowners and the Catholic Church in the form of the formidable Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) who believe that the hall will become a hotbed of socialist revolution.  Interestingly this has also been performed theatrically based on a play by Donal O’Kelly.
Do we stay open?
Jimmy Gralton witnessed America’s Great Depression 1923-1933 and returned to Ireland to witness its own complicated divisions not just politically but religiously. He was deported from Ireland in 1933 as an ‘undesirable alien’, without a trial, for little more than harbouring thoughts of freedom and fairness. The film makes it quite clear that below the pomp and circumstance of organised religion Christ’s teachings are nothing more than socialism under a different heading i.e. supporting the working class, the underprivileged, the sick and the old and helping others where needed, with the church originally providing education for children, way before the upper class thought it necessary to educate the ‘lower’ class. The movie does give a parallel with what is happening today between the privileged few and the rest of us, and the way ordinary people are treated by the government and their rich supporters -  landlords, capitalists and commercial institutions’. Great Britain has recently seen a million people on strike and the government’s attempt to stop the right of people to withdraw there labour brought on by the austerity measures which deliberately set out to punish ordinary people. Unbelievably we get people grizzling about their children having to miss a day at school! They should think themselves lucky to have free education! If people do not protest at times then we may not have?  Or as Ken Loach put it ‘the central message of Jimmy’s Hall is that it is vital to give space to “dissident voices” who oppose the neoliberal, free market consensus[3].
Barry Wood as Gralton with....

....Simone Kirby as Oonagh....

and Jim Norton as Father Sheridan.
With Loach’s realist direction, Laverty’s superbly rich writing skills and the authentic period detail, this wee drama is another great addition to Loach’s oeuvre and hopefully not his last feature film  - what would I have to look forward too, cinematically at least, very few films stir my political juices quite as much as Ken’s?

[1] Harlan Jacobson ‘On the Job’ Film Comment 2007
[2] James Connolly was one of the executed leaders of the 1916 Rising.
[3] Ken Loach speaking at the Cannes Film Festival.

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