Ken Loach has struck again with his beautiful “Jimmy’s Hall”. I could watch its simple, thoughtful scenes for hours on end. Moving, emotional, at times inspiring, but with an underlying sense of frustration and hopelessness as one realises, and history confirms this, that most of the things will never change.
Jimmy’s Hall: Ken Loach’s inspirational tale of 1930s Ireland
Jimmy’s Hall, the latest work by legendary director Ken Loach. For the Church and the ruling class, James Gralton (Barry Ward) and his community hall represented something dangerous and subversive – the fact that the people were beginning to think and act for themselves.Jimmy’s Hall, the story of Irish social activist James Gralton, is an archetypal Ken Loach film: humane, impassioned and empathetic, joyous and full of life. The film also marks a record 12th entry as director for the 77-year-old Loach at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Now, more than ever, we need voices and minds like Loach’s. He has the ability to combine anger at injustice with eloquence and common sense; he has made it his life’s mission to give screen space to the disenfranchised and the dispossessed deemed by other storytellers too unglamorous to gain access into our cinemas.
He’s a director who has retained the courage of his political and social convictions in his film-making. And these are convictions which burn as brightly in this film as they did in his very earliest works, including Poor Cow, the sympathetic portrait of a young, working class woman with few choices and fewer chances; and Kes, one of the greatest of British working class realist pictures of the 1960s.
Jimmy’s Hall, which is set in 1930s Ireland and written by Loach’s regular, like-minded collaborator, Paul Laverty, tells the true-life story of James Gralton. He was a self-educated, community-serving man of the people who became public enemy number one as far as the Catholic church and the local land owners were concerned.
His crime? To build a hall for and with the locals, to serve as a venue for enjoyment and education. Community dances were held there, boxing classes, singing lessons, poetry appreciation sessions, earnest debates about workers’ rights. It sounds innocuous. But for the Church and the ruling class, the hall and the man who built it represented something dangerous and subversive – the fact that the people were beginning to think and act for themselves.
It’s an obvious companion piece to Loach’s 2006 Cannes Palm d’Or-winning film, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, which charts the Irish republican movement and the years of bloody conflict that tore the country asunder, pitting brother against brother, neighbour against neighbour. But as with all of Ken Loach’s best work, you don’t have to look too hard to discover a contemporary resonance wrapped up in the richly textured period detail.
Jimmy stands aloft on a hay cart loaded with the furniture of a tenant farmer who has been evicted by a ruthless landlord. He delivers a rousing address to the assembled hoards, drawing on his own experiences in America, witnessing the vast chasm between rich and poor in the run up to and aftermath of the Great Depression: “I saw the wild speculation and greed … I saw the bubble burst.” It’s a speech that seems rather pertinent in the current financial climate.
The gift that Loach brings to his films is the fact that he doesn’t just tell stories – he motivates the audience to leap out of their seats and become a part of something bigger. There can’t be many people who watched the rousing documentary The Spirit of ’45, for example, and didn’t want to stand up and fight for the NHS. In this way, Loach had a lot in common with Jimmy Gralton.