Last night, I did something I hadn’t done in a while; I sat down and watched a film. It was called Jimmy’s Hall, and we had to watch it for Irish Literature, and, to be honest, I was expecting to be quite bored by the end. Instead, when the credits rolled, I had tears in my eyes (however, to be fair, I am known for crying at the slightest thing in movies).
Jimmy’s Hall (2014) is based on a true story, which probably made it all the more poignant, for me at least. Jimmy Gralton, back home from the States, builds a hall for the young people in the area, with lessons on everything from singing to boxing to literature. Near the end of the movie, it’s burned down. This is after Jimmy and his supporters have been threatened with boycotts, bullied, and/or publicly shamed, yet refuse to stand down.
The director is Ken Loach, who’s quoted as saying, “A movie isn’t a political movement, a party or even an article. It’s just a film. At best it can add its voice to public outrage“. And this is very similar to what Jimmy himself does in the film. By building his hall, he’s trying to give young people a future in the 1920’s and 30’s, because there’s “nothing for them” in their current landscape. He isn’t trying to rebel against the Church, he’s trying to make the community a better place. But one of the local priests, Father Sheridan, disagrees, believing that education should be restricted to clergy, and prominent figures in the area feel the same.
After Jimmy’s hall is burned, we see a meeting between the two local priests and some of the others who opposed the hall. While Father Sheridan and other men have a glass of whiskey, implying a celebration of sorts, Father Seamus is clearly shaken. Before this, he has regarded Father Sheridan’s obsession with Jimmy and his hall as a quirk in character; now, he is horrified at what has happened in the name of religion, and vocally opposes O’Keefe’s implied statement that it was done in the name of religion; “I suspect if Christ was here today, there’d be several members of this parish who would have Him crucified again. That’s what I suspect!”
After the meeting, it’s implied that O’Keefe and Father Sheridan use their contacts to secure a deportation order for Jimmy, and after briefly going on the run, he’s caught and deported back to America. They see him as too dangerous to have in the area, as he encourages people to do something more with their lives than attend mass and work the fields. Jimmy’s Hall makes the power the Catholic Church had on Irish society chillingly clear, and so one of the last scenes in the film in which the young people wave Jimmy off and promise to keep dancing and working among themselves is all the more powerful.
Have you seen this film? What did you think of it? How do you think it compares to other films set in Ireland about this time?