Ir­ish good­bye

JIMMY’S HALL, his­tor­i­cal drama, rated PG-13, Vi­o­let Crown, 3 chiles

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Jimmy Gral­ton was put on a boat and force­fully de­ported from Ire­land with­out a trial in 1933 — the only Ir­ish citizen ever to be ejected from his home­land in this man­ner. Gral­ton’s de­por­ta­tion and the ac­tiv­i­ties that led up to it are the sub­ject of Bri­tish di­rec­tor Ken Loach’s 28th fea­ture film, Jimmy’s Hall, writ­ten by Paul Laverty and based on the play by Donal O’Kelly. The movie was par­tially filmed on lo­ca­tion in County Leitrim, in the vil­lage of Drum­sna, just a few miles from Gral­ton’s birthplace in Ef­frinagh.

The per­for­mances and pro­duc­tion val­ues of Jimmy’s Hall are ex­quis­ite, easily trans­port­ing the viewer to the im­pov­er­ished post-civil-war Ir­ish coun­try­side at a time when dis­si­dence was ef­fec­tively out­lawed by the Catholic Church. The church was in­volved in cre­at­ing a “Red scare” in or­der to in­flu­ence peo­ple in fa­vor of piety and tra­di­tion in­stead of such so­cial re­forms as land own­er­ship and worker’s rights. Gath­er­ing to dance, read, and talk about the state of the na­tion out­side of the church was con­sid­ered hereti­cal, which caused great re­sent­ment among good Catholics who didn’t agree with the church’s de­pic­tion of them.

Gral­ton (Barry Ward) was a com­mu­nity leader and com­mu­nist, although as pre­sented in the film, his pol­i­tics more closely aligned with anti-au­thor­i­tar­ian so­cial­ism. He came to his be­liefs through man­ual la­bor as a teen and then first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence with worker ex­ploita­tion and abuse af­ter he em­i­grated from Ire­land to the United States for a time. In 1921, af­ter leav­ing the Bri­tish army, Gral­ton built a hall on his fam­ily’s prop­erty. In ad­di­tion to classes and dances, he held meet­ings to help ten­ant farm­ers re­gain land from which they’d been evicted. He was de­nounced by the church dur­ing ser­mons, and as the Ir­ish civil war broke out, he left once more for New York, where he stayed for 10 years. He later re­turned to Ire­land to take care of his mother and re­opened the hall, in­cit­ing the same anger in the church and among wealthy landown­ers.

The po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious con­texts of the movie are fraught with his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural nu­ances that may be dif­fi­cult for Amer­i­can au­di­ences to grasp, but the themes of iden­tity, com­mu­nity, and op­pres­sion of the pow­er­less res­onate clearly. (De­ported: The Gral­ton Story ,a 1996 doc­u­men­tary by Michael Carolan, avail­able on YouTube, pro­vides a more spe­cific history.) Lit­tle is widely known about Gral­ton — the Ir­ish gov­ern­ment didn’t even keep a pa­per trail of his de­por­ta­tion — so Loach freely com­presses many as­pects of his bi­og­ra­phy for the sake of dra­matic ten­sion. A love story be­tween Gral­ton and a long-ago flame, Oon­agh (Si­mone Kirby), adds a com­pelling layer to the nar­ra­tive, which re­lies more on the sub­text and mo­ti­va­tion of the char­ac­ters than a lin­ear retelling of history. — Jen­nifer Levin

Dance like no one’s watch­ing: Barry Ward and Si­mone Kirby

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