Combustible Celluloid
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With: Barry Ward, Francis Magee, Aileen Henry, Simone Kirby, Stella McGirl, Sorcha Fox, Martin Lucey, Mikel Murfi, Shane O’Brien, Denise Gough, Jim Norton, Aisling Franciosi, Sean T. O’Meallaigh, Karl Geary, Brian F. O’Byrne, Conor McDermottroe, John Cronogue, Seamus Hughes, Andrew Scott, Michael Sheridan, Rebecca O’Mara, Diane Parkes
Written by: Paul Laverty, based on a play by Donal O'Kelly
Directed by: Ken Loach
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and a scene of violence
Running Time: 109
Date: 07/03/2015

Jimmy's Hall (2015)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Flap Dancing

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jimmy's Hall is a lightweight effort from Ken Loach, a director who has been in business since the 1960s and helped established a new, more realistic UK cinema. His best films include Kes (1969), Land and Freedom (1995), and The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006), but even his smallest trifles incorporate his highly earnest, richly humanist touches. He can often make even the most routine screenplays come to life.

As others have pointed out, Jimmy's Hall tells basically the same story as Footloose, though it's based on the true story of James Gralton. A title crawl explains the context that, in the 1930s, Ireland was a place of turmoil. After a Civil War with England, the country was torn over the details of a treaty. During this time, Jimmy (Barry Ward) built a community hall where people could come together and talk, make art, or dance. The Catholic Church, frowning upon this idea (seeing it as "communist"), forced Jimmy into exile.

Loach shows some of that in flashback, but the bulk of the movie takes place ten years later, as Jimmy returns to care for his dear old ma (Aileen Henry), following the death of his brother. He exchanges shy glances with his former sweetheart (Simone Kirby), who married and had kids in Jimmy's absence, and before long a group of youths encourage Jimmy to rebuild the hall. The local priest Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) smells a threat and begins bringing the full force of the church down upon Jimmy and the good-natured folks who attend classes and dance at the hall. Soon, there are sneak attacks and sudden arrests.

The film manages to whip up a heaping dose of righteous anger at the sheer damage caused by the powerful Church, and indeed any large organization, which cares less about the well-being of its people than it does hanging on to every last iota of power. (In this way, the movie is totally timeless.) Norton is a terrifically nasty, intelligent villain, and Ward is a tall, handsome hero, with a shock of salt-and-pepper hair permanently dangling over his forehead. The movie is unabashedly old-fashioned, with the damp, Irish atmosphere oozing into every shot and making it less Hollywood and more life-like. For all its seriousness, Jimmy's Hall makes you want to dance circles around those that would kill a good time.

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