Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) returns to Ireland in 1932 – having spent 10 years in the US – to help his mother with the family farm. Once home, Jimmy decides to reopen ‘The Hall’; a place where young people came to dance, study or simply talk. Jimmy’s ideas and political views are seen as Communist and soon upset the local landowners, and the Catholic Church.
Jimmy’s Hall was slated to be Ken Loach’s final film, but he has since come out and said the reports of his retirement may have been greatly exaggerated. After The Wind That Shakes The Barley, Jimmy’s Hall is Loach’s second about the Irish Civil War and its aftermath, albeit this time, it’s a smaller story with more conflict with the Catholic Church than with the powers that be across the sea.
Barry Ward, as Jimmy, is the emotional heart and soul of the film; he was run out of Ireland 10 years before due to his political beliefs, and it does not take him long to upset the apple cart again on his return. Ward is a strong lead; charming and engaging. Simone Kirby brings a little femininity to an incredibly male cast as Una, the lost love of Jimmy’s Life and the chemistry between the two is lovely. The main antagonist of the film is Jim Norton as a parish priest, more than a little disgruntled that the power of education and entertainment have been snatched away from the Church. His curate, Father Seamus – played by Andrew Scott – seems to be the voice of reason throughout the film, with Scott giving a strong, reasoned and nuanced performance.
There is little doubt that there is intrigue surrounding Jimmy Gralton; the only Irish man ever to be deported from Ireland, but Paul Laverty’s screenplay neither focuses on the love story that crops up from time to time, nor the conflict with the Church and Gralton’s detractors, meaning that the film bounces from scene to scene with very little to hold it together or emotion to engage with, meaning that the curiosity that surrounds the central character is soon forgotten and the film is little more than dry or average.
Loach, as director, seems to have had to draw the film out in order to fill the running time, we are treated to entire scenes that are unnecessary and do little to forward the film. As well as this, the performances are patchy at best; the central four actors do well with what they are given, but the rest of the ensemble – and yes, there are a lot of them – over act their way through every scene, with the notable exception of the actress who plays Jimmy’s mother, who does not add any inflection or emotion to her character, it seems that she is simply reciting lines.
Jimmy’s Hall is a curious little tale, but there is not enough meat to the story to make a feature film, and this shows. Laverty’s screenplay is messy and unfocused, and Loach has coaxed some of the most mixed and appalling performances from his actors of recent years. Jimmy’s Hall is intriguing, but little more than that.