How it’s New York: Now running in New York movie theaters
How it’s Irish: Tells the story of Irish activist Jimmy Gralton
Jimmy’s Hall – Tribeca Film Festival
Directed by Ken Loach
Screenplay by Paul Laverty
Music – George Fenton
Starring: Barry Ward (Jimmy), Simone Kirby (Oonagh), Jim Norton (Fr. Sheridan), Francis Magee (Mossie), Aisling Franciosi (Marie), Andrew Scott (Fr. Seamus), Brían F. O’Byrne (The Commander)
Set in 1932 in County Leitrim, Ireland, the main message and focus of this beautifully gritty new film from Ken Loach is focused on the real-life story of Jimmy Gralton. Jimmy and his group of free-thinking friends created a Community Hall to give the youth of area a place to gather, learn and share in the arts. The Hall afforded them an opportunity to experience culture outside of their normal educational routine which was highly supervised and censored by the church.
Jimmy had gone off to work in America and returns to help his aging mother, only to find that the Hall has been shuttered at a time when the youth of the town need it most. Not long after his arrival a powerful scene shows Jimmy helping his friend Mossie to move cattle and they come across a group of local youths dancing and playing music at the crossroads. This was common practice, as the church looked down on the traditional dances as too spirited and would penalize or shame the youths if they were caught. Gathering at the crossroads they would be outside the town and shielded from view by the high grasses in the surrounding fields.
The portrayal of the music and art of the time is integral to the story line. Ken Loach has crafted a piece that shows how much can be done with so little! With a few old books, some wood, mismatched chairs and a phonograph that Jimmy has brought with him from New York, the hall is transformed into a magical space where the young people of the town can forget the oppression and lack of opportunities which surround them.
By recording the music and dancing live, Loach captures the authentic feel of the music and the exertion and abandon of the dancing which is emblematic of the joy and freedom that it brings to all present. Jimmy has brought authentic music and dances from the Jazz dance halls in New York and the kids are eager to learn them, discovering something new and escaping the mundane for a few hours.
Singing of the classic Siúil a Rún, which speaks of longing for a better life, echoes the sentiments of setting up the hall in the first place and the determination of the spirit of everyone involved despite the railing against them from the church and religious zealots in the community.
Although Jimmy is painted with the brush of Communism and as a threat to the youth of the area, he is really a savior to them in many ways. He has given them the chance to broaden their minds and know a bit of the world outside of their community, thus keeping their dreams of a better life alive.
Fans of period drama and Irish tradition will find this a true treat and the performances shine, especially those of Barry Ward as Jimmy, Brian F. O’Byrne as The Commander and Jim Norton as the wily Father Sheridan.
Jimmy’s Hall is now playing in New York and Los Angeles, and will be out in theatres in the Tri-State area on Friday, July 17th. I had the opportunity to sit down with the stars of the film during the Tribeca Film Festival and look for my interview as part of the New York Irish Arts Podcast coming to this site soon.