Red and Green, by David Bax
With Jimmy’s Hall, you won’t find director Ken Loach in the stripped-down, bared-teeth social realist mode of masterpieces like 1969’s Kes or 2002’s Sweet Sixteen. Rather, this is a mix of the his more classicalist impulses, combining the historical setting of 2006’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley with the genre riff of 2012’s The Angels’ Share. No matter what type of film, though, it’s still Ken Loach and that’s still plenty good.
Jimmy’s Hall is the true story of Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward), a communist political activist deported from his own native Ireland in the 1930s. Specifically, Loach’s story revolves around the small village community hall Gralton helped build and maintain, which hosted classes during the day and entertainments such as music and dancing during the evening. In the Ireland of the time, education and social gatherings were the purview of the Catholic Church. There begin Jimmy’s problems.
Perhaps the most fitting antecedent to Jimmy’s Hall from Loach’s past is 2000’s Bread and Roses, another film about the rights of the working poor and the tenets of communism. This time, however, Loach traffics even more in archetypes. The nobly suffering men and women at the hall, the vicious thugs who threaten and attack them and, at the center of it, Jimmy himself, handsome and virtuous. In lesser hands, it would be a load of corn but Loach invests such feeling into each character, it plays more like a tragic fable.
Unlike Bread and Roses, though, the opposition is not a capitalist one. Rather, it comes from the church. That gives Jimmy’s Hall its best facet, a great villain. Jim Norton (not the comedian) plays Father Sheridan. He’s not a great villain he’s particularly vicious. Rather, it’s because he is Jimmy’s equal in intelligence and passion. Father Sheridan is devout and full of convictions. What’s more, he is remarkably well-read. Communism is not a scary “other” to him. He understands it and disagrees with it vociferously.
Loach is bold-faced about his point of view, both on the merits of communism, which are of course debatable, and the treachery of deporting a man from his own country without even a trial, which is less so. In the service of persuasion, even propaganda, he hits the notes that that sway your sympathy. In the end, Jimmy’s Hall is a your typical issue movie. But it happens to be one made by a master.