Director Ken Loach
Cast: Barry Ward, Simone Kirby, Jim Norton
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The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Barry Ward’s Jimmy is a loving man, who comes home to his family and loved ones but soon, with mild cajoling, decides to re-open a hall he helped establish, where people can come together and learn, play, and enjoy each other’s company. Why this is such a problem for the powers that be is something that isn’t definitively pointed out in Jimmy’s Hall; director Ken Loach seems to expect the audience to fill in the gaps.
The idea of the church – and, in more general terms, the powers that be which rule the land – not accommodating anything that doesn’t conform to a strict doctrine has been the basis for a great many pieces of cinema over the decades. The same is true of Jimmy’s Hall, although there is also a strong sense of socialism, which could be seen as Communism but feels closer to human altruism in spirit.
The impression, on occasion, is that the film is shooting fish in a barrel; the uptight members of the community are somewhat less shabbily dressed and shout to make their points. It is only late on that the film establishes those within the Church are not wholly united in their opposition to Jimmy and his plans, but this isn’t quite enough to make stop the film from feeling less defined than it should.
While the movie does feel a little boiler-plate in its construction, though, the people are well played. Ward is good in the lead and he is ably supported by people on both sides of his ideology. Simone Kirby, as Jimmy’s romantic interest Oonagh, provides a melancholic sense of longing; a scene between the two alone in the hall is both charged with sexual tension and heartbreaking, because we know that tension will never be released. Everyone’s favourite Moriarty, Andrew Scott, also makes an impression as a Church representative, who doesn’t like Jimmy’s ideals but respects the man behind them. Jim Norton’s more senior priest has the most interesting character arc of the lot, a man who burns with raging indignation and hate but obviously doesn’t want to act on them; if the film felt more of a piece with his role, and performance, it would have been more successful.
Jimmy’s Hall is not remarkable nor will it live long in the memory but, in the moment, it has an affecting quality, which seeks to touch the basic sense of humanity in all of us. It reaches it, even if it never quite manages more than that.