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.
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.”
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.