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