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A mea culpa to communism?

JEFF SAWTELL wonders whether Ken Loach’s latest stirring epic on Irish history might just be an act of leftist redemption

Jimmy’s Hall (12A) 

Directed by Ken Loach 

4/5 

FOLLOWING in the wake of his launching the Left Unity party with Spirit of ’45, Ken Loach has announced Jimmy’s Hall to be his swan song.

Based upon the inspirational Irish communist Jimmy Gralton and set in 1932, I couldn’t help wondering whether Loach is providing a mea culpa to communism.

Loach established his reputation of social realism at the BBC, most significantly with his detestation of communists in The Big Flame, The Rank and File and Days of Hope.

However, Loach’s anti-communist piece de resistance was Land And Freedom which attracted opprobrium from British and Irish members of the International Brigade.

Since the Russian counter-revolution, Loach realised his cold war role and more than redeemed himself on The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

Loach continues on that route in which Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) returns from New York after witnessing the  “Great Crash” to arrive in an Ireland riven with division that stretched farther than north versus the south.

Apart from the civil war casualties, there was the continuing struggle between Catholicism and atheism, always characterised as communist.

While Jimmy’s Hall may not have the cinematic quality of Barley, it is, nonetheless, an inspirational image of a charismatic Irish communist lost to future generations.

Having been forced to flee for fighting the landlords in 1921, he returns in 1932 to where he built a community hall dedicated to Padraig Pearce and James Connolly. 

That’s the centre for the illegal activity of teaching Gaelic, reading groups and participating in Irish music and dancing.

But because he owns a collection of the "devil’s music” the kids across the political and class divide persuade him to renovate and open the hall.

This of course invokes the wrath of arch-reactionary Father Sheridan — brilliant evoked by Jim Norton — as he locks horns with the anti-Christ, to humorous effect.

It proves to be mismatch, as the communist reminds him of Christ’s support for the poor and that “he has hate in his heart, not love.”

It's not long before he and old flame Oonagh (Simone Kirby) are enlivening and educating the area while dancing and organising against the “masters and pastors.”

The film is an emotional and educational experience, especially its emphasis on developing unity in struggle instead of resorting to slogans.

There’s also a reminder of other Irish communists and influential figures like CPGB founder member Tom Mann.

The film’s weakness is simply the fact that it appears to be a chapter in an epic — the saga of the internecine war of Irish politics

Loach surely can’t retire with so much to do done.

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