Jimmy’s Hall: Ken Loach Revisits Irish History

In the long and distinguished career of British director Ken Loch, his latest  feature, “Jimmy’s Hall’’ is a minor film, a fictionalized portrait of the real-life figure of Irish man Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward).

The life of Gralton, who is known for building a dance hall in rural County Leitrim, might have been a better subject for an interrogative documentary, with greater attention paid to the broader social-political context.

The history of the man and place are rather interesting: During the Irish civil war (a major event that Loach has dealt with in other, better films), the hall was shattered but then it reopened.

Obviously, Loach is interested in the other functions served by Jimmy’s place, specifically in offering classes and books that the local residents could not afford.

The hall is also a nexus for propagating Jimmy’s left-wing politics, which causes tensions with Father Sheridan (Jim Norton), the parish priest who cannot tolerate any competition

The film represents yet another collaboration with Loach’s frequent writer, Paul Laverty, who seems more intrigued by the intersection of Irish politics and the Catholic Church than by the personality of his protagonist.  There are too many speeches and declarations in liey of lively dialogue between Jimmy and his entourage.

It is a testament to the film’s shortcomings, especially in the writing department, that that most memorable scenes depict Jimmy’s personal life rather than his politics, such as the one that shows him dancing with Oonagh (Simone Kirby), the woman he loves in the rather deserted hall.

I hope that the rumors that Jimmy’s Hall might be the last picture of Ken Loach, who is in his 80s and has been directing for five decades, giving us along the way ultra-realistic portraits of the working class.