Brian Henry Martin at the movies

Strictly 'Commie' Dancing

Published Thursday, 29 May 2014
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It's not the Devil, but the Communists who have all the best tunes in 1930's Ireland.

Jazz tunes that have the local community jiving in Jimmy's Hall, an entertaining tale of Reds, raves and political repercussions. Veteran director Ken Loach tackles the life and times of socialist leader James Gralton, based on the true story of the only Irishman to be deported from Ireland.

Jimmy's Hall begins with images of New York in the roaring twenties, the building boom of 'the Big Apple' before the bust of the Wall Street crash. Arriving home in 1932 from a depressed America to rural Leitrim is handsome renegade Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward). Back to his mother's farm with his worldly possessions on the back of a cart. Back to an Irish Free State desperately trying to heal the scars of the Civil War. "What will you do with yourself Jimmy?" he is asked by a friendly neighbour, "I want the quiet life" he replies.

However, Gralton is destined to live in sunshine not in shadow. He returns not with gold in his pocket but Red revolution in his head. Gralton is committed to help the poverty stricken become comrades and fight for land and freedom. Ten years earlier, he had built a dance hall on his land where young people came to learn, to dream and dance to a different tune. But then Gralton was forced to flee, as the country split in two and he fell on the wrong side of political divide.

Now he's back, the local girls demand the good times to return. "We want to dance Jimmy" pleads one troubled teenager "Somewhere where we won't have a Guard or a Priest poking us with a stick". So armed with a shiny new gramophone and a fistful of Harlem's finest jazz records, Jimmy re-opens his hall.

However, not everyone is happy that the party has re-started. "What is this craze for pleasure?"
decries Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) from the pulpit, "I will not have a communist in my parish". For Jimmy's Hall is not only a danger to the Catholic establishment for the 'dirty' dancing but also the collective gathering of working people. Activists prepared to throw away the shackles of church and state and choose instead free and forward thinking.

What ensues is a battle for the hearts, minds and dancing feet of the people. "Our community has a choice" declares Father Sheridan "Is it Christ or Gralton?"

Jimmy's Hall in the hands of a lesser director may have become just another fluffy piece of paddywhackery but Ken Loach brings all his integrity to the dance. Powerful performances throughout frame a fresh and thoughtful look at hidden Irish history. Due to his failing eyesight, this may well may be 77 year old Loach's last film, but whether you agree with his politics or not, you have to admire his determined vision.


Jimmy's Hall (Cert 12a) is released on Friday 30th May

© UTV News
B. H. Martin
B. H. Martin

Brian Henry Martin is an accomplished documentary filmmaker and UTV's resident film critic, appearing regularly on UTV Live Tonight.

No matter what the film, there's a good chance Brian has seen it.

Twice.

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