Jimmy’s Hall

In a biopic of Jimmy Gralton (played by Barry Ward), director Ken Loach has brought to public attention an episode that was long forgotten—and deliberately so by the Irish authorities from the 1930s to the 1970s. As Jimmy’s Hall begins, titles remind filmviewers of the fight for Irish independence from 1919-1921 and the Irish civil war of 1922. But the action begins with Gralton’s homecoming in 1932, after a new party won the national election with a promise of harmony. Returning to rural County Leitrim to join his mom, he goes back to work as a laborer, and decides to reopen the Pearse-Connolly Hall as the only site of local community activity outside the Catholic Church. Flashbacks to 1922 inform that Gralton left Ireland because he was on the losing side of the civil war, and he is back in 1932 after the onset of the Great Depression to provide a sense of community for the agricultural people of his county who are among the millions around the world adversely affected by the greed of Wall Street. The hall becomes a school again, a place for the community to meet and discuss how to respond to the times, and a joyous festival hall for dancing and singing. But any activity inside the parish is perceived as a threat by Father Sheridan (Jim Norton), who claims that all education must be provided by the church. From the pulpit, Sheridan denounces those involved in the hall as communists. Gralton tries to reason with the priest, who will not listen to anything but capitulation, as he is closely tied into the civilian authorities in the county. One day a family, consisting of a mother and four children, is evicted from their home on the property of the local baron, presumably for nonpayment of rent. Soon the council of the hall decides to break down the barriers to the doors and windows so the family can live as before. Then a general strike occurs in Belfast, with communist agitators viewed by the authorities as responsible rather than poverty. The last part of the film demonstrates how an anti-communist purge visits Leitrim County in 1933. Filmviewers will stare at the screen in incredulity as the purge plays out, with titles at the end of Jimmy’s Hall that will cause filmviewers to stay in their seats in even more shock at the outcome—that is, unless they have read Deported (1986) or seen the musical Jimmy Gralton’s Dancehall (2012). Once again, the Political Film Society has nominated Ken Loach—this time for best film on the need for democracy as well as best film exposé. MH