Irish history provides the setting for Ken Loach’s latest film, Jimmy’s Hall, set in County Leitrim in the 1930s.
“It is a comment on what happened ten years after the struggle for independence,” Loach told Socialist Worker. “The situation was sad but not so unexpected.
“The people who won the civil war were quite prepared, in the words of James Connolly, to simply change the colour of the flag and the accents of the powerful.
“The structures of society stayed the same.”
The film portrays the gaping class divide between the ruling class and those at the bottom of society. Loach described a “powerful combination” in Ireland at that time.
“The position of the church was entrenched,” he said. “It stood behind the men of property—and the men of property stood behind the church.”
Jimmy’s Hall is based on the true story of socialist Jimmy Gralton. He built a dance hall, the
Pearse-Connolly hall, in rural County Leitrim in 1921. The film shows in flashback how hugely popular the hall became. People came from all around to dance, read poetry and play music.
The film opens ten years later, as Jimmy returns from the US to look after his elderly mother.
He is persuaded to reopen the now derelict hall. But the new gatherings there prove to be too much of a snub to the establishment.
“The hall was an emblem of freedom,” said Loach. “That’s why the powers that be had to get rid of it.
“The church and landed class couldn’t control it. It was the danger of a good example that would catch on.”
Loach explained that at the time “jazz was described by churchmen as ‘the devil’s music’”.
But the hall was more than about music, “it was about what it represented—subversive, free thinking expression.”
This was a period when “the Blueshirts, a very primitive fascist organisation, were just beginning. Two or three years later the church sent volunteers to Spain to fight for Franco.”
Loach said he wanted to expose “the great lie is that we are all one” when “the reality is we are riven by class and class interests.”
Ken Loach began directing plays for the BBC in the 1960s. He said he and other left wing writers and directors were trying “to tangle with the real meat of politics and assert the idea that our society is based on class division”.
“They talk about political correctness,” he said. “But the real political correctness is to say there is no alternative to the free market.
“That’s what we have to challenge.”
Loach said he had been lucky. “Film is different from television,” he said. “The commercial imperative in cinema is driven by Hollywood.
“But there are little corners of it and if you’re lucky you can make the film you want to make.”
Loach has been invited to the Cannes film festival more than any other director. He said it was “hugely important” to have a film shown at “the pre-eminent film festival in the world”.
Jimmy’s Hall has been rumoured to be the 77 year old Loach’s last film. On this he was down to earth, saying that making big films is “physically quite heavy for a senior citizen”. But he is not going to retire. Instead Loach hopes to make more films “but maybe on a smaller scale”.