Gaels just want to have fun

Ken Loach’s fact-based film ‘Jimmy’s Hall’ takes us back to 1930s Ireland.

Ken Loach’s factbased film ‘Jimmy’s Hall’ takes us back to 1930s Ireland. (photo credit: PR)
Ken Loach’s factbased film ‘Jimmy’s Hall’ takes us back to 1930s Ireland.
(photo credit: PR)
Hebrew title: Hamoadon shel Jimmy
Directed by Ken Loach
With Barry Ward, Simone Kirby
Running time: 95 minutes In English, with Hebrew subtitles
How repressive and mean were the Catholic Church and the Irish government in the old days? So darn mean that there is a mini-genre of movies exposing their hateful persecution of anyone who ever dared to have fun on those mistshrouded bogs. Jimmy’s Hall, a factbased drama directed by Ken Loach, is the most recent of these films.
It’s mildly entertaining but suffers from the one problem common to all these movies – that the enemy is so vile, there is little shading. When I worked at the New York Post years ago, many of my Irish and Italian colleagues used to compare stories about how horribly the nuns and priests treated them in their Catholic schools. I always thought they were exaggerating, but now that we have all these movies – such as The Magdalene Sisters, Philomena, Calvary and now Jimmy’s Place – I know that if anything, they were probably minimizing the torments they suffered.
The Magdalene Sisters is the Citizen Kane of this genre and well worth seeing. It was about what happened to “wayward girls” – which could mean anything from a young woman who had a baby out of wedlock (even if she was raped) to a pretty girl who liked to flirt with boys. They were forced to work in slave-labor conditions in laundries run by the church – sometimes for the rest of their lives.
The evil nuns sat counting money, telling them how horrible they were and looking the other way when they were sexually abused by priests. And this horror went on until the 1970s.
Jimmy’s Hall, set in the picturesque but impoverished Irish countryside in the early 1930s, tells the story of the only Irishman ever deported from Ireland. Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) is a hunky Irishman who returns home to his mother’s cottage after having left many years before to work in New York. He says he wants to live a quiet life, but his old friends don’t think that will happen. He reconnects – in a chaste way – with his still lovely old flame, Oonagh (Simone Kirby). Before you can start looking for a four-leaf clover, he gets involved in reopening a long-shuttered community center, which is soon a thriving spot where many young people have fun – and thus becomes a target of censure for the church meanies.
Although the good times the folks have there are the most innocent you can imagine – dancing, listening to jazz music, singing, etc.
– old Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) equates it all with the Commie excesses of the Soviet Union under Stalin and does whatever he can to shut it down. His younger colleague, Father Seamus (Andrew Scott), tries to convince him that it’s nothing to worry about, but Sheridan takes the names of everyone who goes, and reads them aloud at Mass on Sunday. A lovely young girl who just likes step dancing is severely beaten by her father right after the service, but it doesn’t break her spirit. No one’s spirits are broken, and they all go back for more fun.
Eventually, Jimmy gets involved in politics, making a speech in support of the striking trade unions in Belfast. This arouses the resentment of some of the local leaders, who start sending thugs to shoot up the hall. Jimmy does get Father Sheridan to come around, shaming him by saying, “You’ve got more hate than love in your heart,” but it’s too late. The authorities are calling for Jimmy to be deported.
There is gorgeous scenery, and all the drama is padded by scenes of Irish music and dance that are either charming or kitschy, depending on your tolerance for that kind of thing.
And speaking of tolerance, let’s take a moment to remember that Ken Loach refused to attend the Haifa International Film Festival in 2006, in sympathy with the BDS movement against Israel. He does, however, allow his films to be shown here, and Israeli cinephiles continue to revere him for his proworking class movies.