Legendary British director, Ken Loach’s latest and possibly final film production, Jimmy’s Hall is a raw and thoughtful historical tale of life. Not in the sense of breathing in and out, but more in the sense of living life and enjoying life. That’s what communist activist; Jimmy Gralton wanted for County Leitrim in 1930s Northern Ireland. With rumours rife as the film premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, could this touching film be Loach's last?
Jimmy’s Hall tells the true story of the instantly likable, Jimmy Gralton and his community’s struggle to build and maintain a recreational centre for the young and old. After being forced to seek protection in the States for brewing troubles in Northern Ireland, the boy Jimmy returns a man. A man with a tuft of grey hair, a few regrets and the hope of another chance at life back in his native land. After a few days of hard graft, Jimmy finds himself with an interesting proposition from the lads and lassies of the town. Through cheery flashbacks tainted by rough attacks from burly men, Jimmy decides to reconstruct the hall and renew what once was.
In the disheartened and broken countryside, the Irish passion energy remains. With Jimmy’s helpful and witty sidekicks such as Mossy (Francis Magere) and the impassioned Sean played by Karl Geary, the community quickly rallies round for a dance or two. The performances by all the actors feel completely genuine and almost as if they are these characters. The relatively unknown actor Barry Ward, as the fearless leader Jimmy is powerful prompting the question ‘where has this man been hiding?’ His sweetheart, Oonagh performed by Simone Kirby is beautiful and the short moments between her and Jimmy are incredibly touching. There’s no over-acting or sloppy audible kissing. Just simply a man and a woman torn apart by politics but who simply cannot be together in the future in which they now exist.
The plot is reminiscent of Footloose, both 80s drenched Kevin Bacon version and the shiny Hollywood remake version. But in the case of Gralton, this was real life. Historical facts are presented at the beginning and ending cementing the director's adherence to respecting the past. Gralton's passion is inspiring and unmissable to watch. The hall faces adversity and questioning from the local parish and its' congregation headed by the cold and stern looking Father Sheridan. Performed by Jim Norton, the traditional old man mentors Father Seamus played by the familiar looking nemesis of BBC's Sherlock Holmes, Andrew Scott.
The anger and discontent surfaces during joyful scenes of boxing, dancing, singing and poetry lessons at Gralton's hall. Soon, brash violence and pangs of fear ripple through the community. Actions come to a startling conclusion when Jimmy is forced to go on the run again leaving his friends and family behind. With his screenplay, adapted from a play by Donal O'Kelly, Loach's long term writing buddy Paul Laverty has brought warm and compassion to a particularly harsh truth. The glow breaming from the many dance scenes and the lively band providing the rhythms reminds the audience of how life was celebrated in past years and how it is still celebrated in the same way. For current and future cinema audiences, I sincerely hope that Jimmy's Hall is not Ken Loach's final representation of human life on screen as that would be a sad day indeed.