The film Ken Loach has hinted may be his last is a contemplative, tender drama
Ken Loach returns with what may or may not be his final feature film. Either way, Jimmy’s Hall is typical of the 77 year-old director, with its story of a real-life Irish activist, who comes to clash with the authorities. Written again by his prolific Glaswegian screenwriter Paul Laverty – remarkably, this is their eleventh collaboration since 1996’s Carla’s Song – it finds Loach in contemplative mood.
Set in 1932, the story centres on Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward), a Communist sympathiser who returns to Ireland after a decade working in America. Back to look after his mother Alice (Aileen Henry), he is beseeched to reopen the local community hall. Soon enough, the locals are gathering for everything from woodwork lessons and boxing classes to night-time dances. And it’s the latter that cause the Catholic Church, led by Father Sheridan (Jim Norton), to come to blows with Jimmy.
Smartly, Loach and Laverty ensure the film isn’t merely an anti-Catholic Church tirade, largely through the figure of Andrew Scott’s more open-minded priest. It’s not quite as angry or powerful as Loach’s previous Irish-set The Wind That Shakes The Barley (though both films would make a good double bill). Instead, with a subplot involving Jimmy and Oonagh (Simone Kirby), the one true love he still harbours feelings for, it’s tender, gentle, romantic even.
The washed-out period feel is spot-on, yet some rather amateur supporting performances almost undermine the film. In particular, Jimmy’s mother’s scenes – bar one comic moment where she distracts the police from finding her son – feel rather stilted. Despite repeated Biblical references (Gralton is almost a Christ-like martyr) it’s never as dramatic as you’d like, even in the finale. But if it proves to be Loach’s swan song, it’s a graceful note to bow out on.
General release from Fri 30 May.