In 1932, ten years after the civil war in Ireland, James Gralton returns to his village in this fictionalisation of a true story. He has worked as a labourer in New York, where he witnessed economic boom and bust.
He is also returning to Onnagh. Jimmy’s wish for a quiet life with his elderly mother is interrupted by local teens who plea for him to reopen the village’’s Pearse-Connolly Hall.
This brings Jimmy back to the old tin hall, which had been built, run and owned collectively. It had stood as a testament to solidarity among Ireland’s class of landless peasants, as well as a radical new form of ownership, management and education.
Jimmy’s radicalism led to armed soldiers driving him out. On his return, by declaring the hall open once again, he brings the wrath of the Catholic church, the landowners, the government, police and army back onto him.
Following the merciless eviction of a peasant family of five Jimmy leads a mass march to the family’s small cottage, past their landlord’s mansion.
Once the landlord is seen off by the villagers, in a powerful scene of working class power, they set about removing the boarding from the door and windows of the cottage with crowbars.
Jimmy stands on a horse-drawn cart and delivers a speech, questioning, “How can the interests of the factory worker, the mine worker, be the same as those of the owners? How can the interests of the lord be the same as those of the landless farmers?”
The backlash is carried out, on behalf of the land-owners, by the parish’s two priests: Father Sheridan and the sympathetic Father Seamus, brilliantly played by Jim Norton and Andrew Scott respectively. They shame the hall’s visitors by name, scheme against the workers, and denounce the very idea of fun.
The cast is skilfully made up of established professional actors alongside able amateurs. The scenes in which the dance hall’s council meet to strategise are improvised with talent.
These scenes are convincing and interesting. Jimmy’s Hall evokes passion, solidarity and laughter. It is a must-see for any socialist film fan.
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