Jimmy’s Hall: Footloose in Ireland

Jimmy’s Hall: Footloose in Ireland July 10, 2015

Review of Jimmy’s Hall, Directed by Ken Loach

Based loosely on the story of James “Jimmy” Gralton, Jimmy’s Hall is an Irish version of Footloose. Jimmy (Barry Ward) was a real person, an Irish communist leader who was deported for rallying opposition to the Catholic Church — the only Irishman ever deported from Ireland. The film downplays Jimmy’s communism, however, and portrays him as a community leader with a community hall dedicated to self-improvement through the study of literature, the arts, and exercise. Father Sheridan, as the stereotyped religious prude, is concerned that such education outside the purview of Holy Mother Church is a dangerous development. The clash between Jimmy and Sheridan plays out as a predictable, feel-good ode to the spirit of the common person, community, and love.

Jimmy’s Hall sets up a classic dichotomy between the religious and the human spirit, the puritanical and the liberal, the downers and the happy. All, of course, in the political climate of 1930s Ireland.

Image Credit: Wikimedia
Image Credit: Wikimedia

Jimmy returns to his hometown after living in New York for some years. He reopens Pearson-Connolly Hall, a community center he spearheaded back in the day. Singing, dancing, lessons on literature, and boxing are just some of the activities sponsored by the hall and taught by fellow community members. Father Sheridan unfortunately sees this as the “Los Angelization of our culture” and an “obsession with pleasure.”

Father Sheridan typifies H.L. Mencken’s definition of puritanism: the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. He is maligned time and time again. Jimmy condemns Father Sheridan in a confession box, he has more hate than love in his heart. Father Seamus, a priest sympathetic with Jimmy’s position, cries out that if Christ were around today there are those who would see him crucified all over again. Of course, he’s right. Just as in Christ’s day, pharisaism had replaced true religion. In many ways, Jimmy plays the Christ figure, opposing a graceless religious establishment, caring for the poor and helpless, defending the weak, and in doing so meeting an unhappy end.

While this main narrative is plodding along, a number of political and social issues are addressed: corporal punishment of children, the meaning of love, class struggle, and the list can go on. Loach has some difficulty balancing all these sub-narratives, however. For example, a neighboring community obtains Jimmy’s help in getting a family, evicted by a wealthy landowner, back into their home. But this little episode is never directly tied back to the story. There is a suppressed romance between Jimmy and a married woman who he knew before he left for New York, but that again is never developed very far.

The subject matter is not new for director Ken Loach, who also made Land and Freedom (1995) and the critically-acclaimed The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006). But the unfinished feel to many of the characters and subplots make Jimmy’s Hall a heart-warming movie, but a forgettable one.

 

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