Jimmy’s Hall comes from Writer/Director/Socialist/cool dude Ken Loach, and it may – sadly – prove to be his last film. Loach recently came out and criticised the critics for being too middle class and that we needed more ‘punters’ reviewing films. Well I’m certainly not working class, but I’m also not embedded in the critics circle, so hopefully I’ll do Ken proud.
Loach’s work is known for being politically charged, and Jimmy’s Hall is no different, almost every decision made by the characters is influenced by the underlying political struggle at the time. It is set in Ireland during the Great Depression, a man called Jimmy (surprise surprise) returns from America and wishes to renovate an old dance hall he used to run. Because of this, antagonisms arise from the Church and Right Wing groups opposed to the idea. The idea they oppose is really the threat of communism and the distillation of ‘Irish values’ and culture. Jimmy returns from American bearing both knowledge of the impact of the Great Depression in its epicentre and knowledge of how radically different American culture is. Primarily this manifests itself through Jimmy teaching the dance hall attendees how to dance the ‘sinful’ American Jazz Dance (hip thrusts and all) as opposed to traditional Irish dance. Which is a moral quandary for the conservative priests who view as too radical a shift in terms of culture, sexuality and race: Jimmy says something along the lines of “Funny, [Black Women] have the same faces as us”. But really what this all boils down to is ambiguous search for a national identity in an uncertain time.
Given our current economic situation and the ‘quest’ for our English/British national identity, the commentary in Jimmy’s Hall is quite apt. It is a neat counterpoint to Gove’s ideological crusade to instil “British Values” (whatever that means) ) whilst his government continues to devolve power away from communities in favour of landowners, bankers and the like. In fact, there is a neat little scene where a Jimmy and his friends help get an unfairly evicted family get reinstated (by using force). Jimmy is not, as the Church would have everybody believe, trying to install his own regime of communism or Marxism (there is nice discussion of Marx and his ‘dangerous’ ideas in the film), but rather promote a sense of community and belonging that – hopefully – results in a fair society. Both men (Jimmy and the priest) want the same thing, but as Jimmy remarks to him: “You have more hate in your heart than love”.
The film is very well shot and looks fantastic, Loach brings out the best in the Irish countryside, yet it still retains the social realist aesthetic that he is known for. In particular there is a beautifully shot and lit dance scene that contrasts very well to the rest of the film, visually and thematically. If I have any major complaints it would be that Jimmy himself is a little too good to be true, he seemingly has no huge character flaws, but then again, it is based on a real life story and Loach has no obligation to give him such flaws. Jimmy’s Hall is not ground-breaking by any stretch of the imagination, and it’s certainly not as good as The Wind That Shakes the Barley but it is a fine film nonetheless and worth seeking out.