"Jimmy’s Hall,” a film by Ken Loach, 2014
Loach is one of the best left-wing filmmakers in the world and this film is an undiscovered gem, at least in the U.S. It tells the true story of James Gralton, a member of one of the Revolutionary Workers Groups (RWG) in Ireland, who returns to Ireland in 1932 from the U.S. after having been deported for leading anti-eviction actions.
Gralton returns to his mother’s farm in a rural area, County Leitrim, and goes about revitalizing a rural meeting hall near the farm. This hall is based on the real Pearse-Connolly hall in Effernagh. Leitrim is in the north of Ireland, next to Northern Ireland itself. Loach carefully weaves a story of cultural work and social struggle into one. This is rare, as most people think that politics and culture are in two distinct boxes. Gralton proves otherwise. The majority of the community gets together to rebuild the hall, which has fallen into disuse. They begin holding classes in poetry, in boxing, in drawing, in Irish dancing – and even jazz dancing. Community dances are held with bands, as this hall seems to be the only large place that people can meet.
The dead hand of the Irish Catholic Church is immediately evident, as the local priest starts telling people not to go to the hall, as he insists only the Church can handle education. He threatens them with other-worldly condemnation and inveighs against ‘modern’ jazz and dancing. The film starts to look like an Irish version of “Footloose.” Well, it gets darker than that. This is Ireland, after all. The folks at the hall try to figure out a way to win over the priest by putting him on their ‘Board.’ The priest says yes, but only if they put the deed in the name of the Church. No way.
A young girl is whipped by her father for continuing to visit the hall. Others are intimidated from coming to the hall. Then leaders of the RWG, which in 1933 helped form the Irish Communist Party, visit Jimmy to tell him about an eviction. A large family has been thrown out of their hovel by the local landlords. The RWG thinks that the country – in the midst of the Depression – is ready to move against evictions. They want Gralton, who has a name, to make a speech and spark that movement. They point out that the nationalist IRA is noncommittal. Jimmy’s local co-thinkers get together to decide if he should make the speech, as they know the repercussions. Dancing and jazz is one thing, but fighting evictions is a whole ‘nother level in Ireland.
A classic confrontation ensues. The majority of people in the village and surrounding areas march back to the abandoned house with the family, with Jimmy and his buddies in the lead. Standing against them is the priest, the landlords & rich people, and the police – the whole local ruling elite. Guns are drawn on both sides – and the local elite backs down, for now. Jimmy makes the speech and things start to come apart.
The hall is burnt at night. Jimmy is arrested, escapes with help, but is ultimately caught and condemned to being deported again without trial. His love affair with a local women is once again sundered. And the children of this locality no longer have someone who can help them get beyond daily prayers.
The RWG were supporters of Irish socialists like James Connolly and James Larkin.
Even after the formal independence of the south in 1921, which was won by an IRA guerrilla war against Britain lasting 3 years, struggle continued. This film makes the obvious point that the Irish national struggle against the landowners was not over. The landlords were both Irish and English. In other words it was all along both a national and a class fight. So in essence this ‘revolution,’ like all others, is permanent – i.e. it can break the bounds of any stages that are decreed by a reformist group like the IRA, which had led the national struggle, or the later Irish CP itself.
Other films by Ken Loach that are worth watching concerning the working class or politics: “Land & Freedom,” about the Spanish Civil war; “Riff Raff,” “My Name is Joe,” “Bread & Roses,” (about the L.A. janitors movement) “The Wind that Shakes the Barley,” (about Irish liberation struggle…), “Family Life,” and “The Navigators.”
January 11, 2016