The great social realist’s latest (and not last) feature might be a quaint sort of outing, but as an impassioned and idealistic study, it’s up there with his best. The plot follows the true story of Jimmy Gralton, a socialist who returns to his hometown in Leitrim after 10 years in the States. At the bequest of the locals he rebuilds the village’s nationalist community centre where he reinstates painting, literature and singing classes along with nights of jazz music (god forbid!) with the records he brought home.
The hall seems to light the whole town up but, of course, falls foul of the local establishment. The priest (Jim Norton in full Bishop Brennan mode) is first to denounce him as a communist before the blueshirts follow suit. Loach hones in on a delicate moment in Irish politics, a crossroads of sorts between the conclusion of the War of Independence and the beginning of the Troubles in the North – and seems to argue a missed opportunity for a socialist Ireland; a subject which never strays from the director’s heart.
The amateur cast has a tendency to break the spell, but through Robbie Ryan’s beautiful photography and Loach’s endless passion, the message still rings true.
Jimmy's Hall | Directed by Ken Loach (Ireland, 2014) with Barry Ward, Simone Kirby. Starts August 14
Originally published in issue #129, July/August 2014.