Just two years ago Ken Loach was in Cannes (as he so often, thankfully, is) with a wonderful gift of a film called “The Angel’s Share”. So it was with great anticipation that I walked into the theatre to watch “Jimmy’s Hall”.
But it’s just not the same. And nor, I suppose, should it be. Loach is entitled to make a variety of films, as he has. But after Angel’s, and the enchantment of it and it’s ability to make a soul sing, one expects a little of the same with a movie that is centred around a dance hall.
Instead one gets a film that is a lesson in Irish history and feels almost as restrictive and constrictive in its emotions as the etiquette and rules of the time were.
There are also at least three occasions during the unfolding of the film when it appears that it’s been either too sloppily or too sharply edited with chunks missing here and there, so one’s never too sure what happened in the interim. You have to fill in too many dots, remember too many facts that at times you feel you’re back at school rather than settled in to a movie theatre.
So your soul won’t skip but you may learn a little about how harsh life was for Irish people back in 1921. In fact there were many similarities to an apartheid South Africa, to a time when free thought and expression was not welcomed, even allowed…and when religion was used to influence people with fear rathe than love, and with motives that often seemed the opposite of the brotherhood of man they were meant to be espousing.
Jimmy Gralton (played by Barry Ward) returns from America to build a dance hall in rural Ireland. His dream is for young people to be able to come there to learn and to argue and to dream…and most importantly to dance and have fun. But the church will have none of it.
According to the movie’s synopsis the movie “celebrates the spirit of these free-thinkers”. Unfortunately the spirit of those who oppose the free-thinkers is even stronger, with incredibly grumpy faces and attitudes pervading the movie, and apart from some isolated scenes – like when Jimmy’s mother fiercely protects her son from the police – the spirit is missing. (In fact apart from that scene, Jimmy’s mother herself seemed to have not been well cast and most scenes with her in were awkward to watch.)
There are moments though of high-spiritness. But they are fleeting.