Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for Shockya. Databased on Rotten Tomatoes.
Grade: B+
Director: Ken Loach
Screenwriter: Paul Laverty
Cast:  Barry Ward, Francis Magee, Aileen Henry, Simone Kirby, Stella McGirl, Sorcha Fox, Martin Lucey, Mikel Murfi, Shane O’Brien
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 4/9/15
Opens:  July 1, 2015

Ken Loach, who directed “Jimmy’s Hall,” is no mushy liberal who would waste too much of his valuable time pushing for a 25-cent wage hike for McDonald’s workers—however important that may be to them.  Loach is for the working class, but wants nothing less than radical change.  Giving workers a few more crumbs from the king’s table does nothing for them but take their minds from the real problem, which is the way capitalist society is structured.  He defends his beliefs in movies like “Land and Freedom,” in which an unemployed communist leaves his Liverpool digs to fight the fascists in Spain in 1936.  Then again in “The Wind that Shakes the Barley,” two brothers fight a guerrilla war against the British during Ireland’s campaign for independence.  Now, in “Jimmy’s Hall,” based on a true story, he takes on the repressive forces of the army, the police, the landlords and the Catholic Church to build a village hall where his friends, considered radicals all, put up a basic structure where they can dance freely to the music of Harlem to which he introduces them on a Victrola that he brings over from New York.  At the same time, the hall is used for education in sports, literature, music and art.

The Catholic Church, the Holy Mother Church as the priest, Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) calls it, doesn’t like what this rabble-rouser, James Gralton (Barry Ward) is doing.  For one thing, Father Sheridan believes that all education falls within the purview of the Church.  For another, he denies that the land belongs to these local communists.  Further, by calling Jimmy’s followers the sorts of communists who are under the thumb of Joe Stalin and should thereby be sent to Siberia is a far-out interpretation that many had made even here in America during the depression, when intellectuals and workers alike joined the Communist Party USA to deal with our own national crisis.  And there’s more.  The Church, the police, and segments of the army do not like the way this band speaks out against poverty, in a country in which the rich live well and the landless poor are starving.

All of this is a heady Irish brew, one that is acted with terrific ensemble work by Barry Ward in the lead role, by Simone Kirby as Oonagh, his girlfriend before Jimmy had to flee to America but who is now married with kids, by Jim Norton as a priest who is not a stereotypical wing-nut but a fellow with a strong belief in traditions, including the belief that Irish traditional folk dancing should be preferable to a deracinated jazz music from another country.   (I have to agree with him on that last point. Sorry, Bessie Smith.)  Not all church officials follow the Sheridan line: young Father Seamus (Andrew Scott) notes that repression leads to blowback and that Jimmy and the gang should be allowed to blow off steam in his hall.

“Jimmy’s Hall is set in 1932 and is freely inspired by James Gralton’s life, with a special emphasis on the way he is deported to America without a trial as an illegal alien, despite his being born in the cabin housing his mother, Alice (Aileen Henry), a woman who supports what the communists are doing and who takes action to prevent the police from arresting the son she had to live without for ten years previous.

Unrated.  109 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B
Overall – B+


By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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