When I heard that “Jimmy’s Hall” was about a rigid community refusing to let the town youth have a place to dance, I wanted to call up the director and tell him we need time before another “Footloose” adaptation — five years at least.
But then I saw the director is Ken Loach (“The Wind that Shakes the Barley”), who had been contributing to the art of film since the 1960s. Loach is famous for his representation of social issues such as homelessness and labor rights, and his work on “Jimmy’s Hall,” reportedly his last film, continues his work on the intersection of the personal and political.
“Jimmy’s Hall” opens with the 1932 return of Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward, “The Claim”) to his native Ireland after spending a decade in New York. Looking for salvation from the Great Depression in America, Gralton returns back to an Irish society on the mend from the Civil War. He reunites with his mother (newcomer Aileen Henry) and Ooangh (Simone Kirby, “Peaky Blinders”), an old flame who has moved on to domestic bliss. But the hope of a quiet homecoming is quickly thwarted by Jimmy’s infamous dance hall, of which the teenagers of the town have heard so many legends. Reluctantly, Jimmy reopens the hall and, with a team of volunteers, begins to reignite the community passion for dance, boxing and poetry that he once knew.
However, this new dance hall is not welcomed by everyone. Father Sheridan (Jim Norton, “Water for Elephants”), a local priest, condemns the hall and views it as an amplification of Jimmy’s known socialist leanings. He worries that his town will began to resemble the stories of Russia that he has heard. Father Sheridan uses his pulpit to denounce the dance hall, those who participate and the vulgar “pelvic thrusting” that occurs in it. With Jimmy as a leader, the pugnacity of the town attempts to overcome an intensified church and state. Father Sheridan shares the screen with less complex villains — the landowners who have been stealing their estates from the working people. While Father Sheridan’s acrimony over the dancehall is understandably due to his fear of losing his authority, the violent nature of the landowners seems unnecessary and unexplained.
The film is based on Gralton’s true story of being expelled from his homeland for communist activities. The political message of the film is clear — the working class hero fights the good fight against the wealthy and powerful who will do anything to keep their power intact. The nature of the film reinforces its titular hall — full of the good nature of the proletariat and the spirit of an Ireland that can only be captured through the realistic lens of Loach.