Director Ken Loach’s filmmaking career has spanned nearly five decades, and in that time he’s produced some cinematic classics. He’s also produced plenty of forgettable films. With Jimmy’s Hall, rumored to be the 79-year-old director’s final feature, Loach unfortunately finds himself in the latter group.
Jimmy’s Hall takes its basic structure from a true story about James Gralton (Barry Ward), whose position as an opponent to the Catholic church eventually led to him becoming the only Irish person to ever be deported from Ireland. The film opens in 1932, with Jimmy returning to his hometown after spending years in New York City following other issues with those in power. Before he left the first time, he opened up a community center which went empty when he left. His return prompts the local youth to beg him to reopen it. This doesn’t sit well with Father Sheridan (Jim Norton), who urges his congregation to avoid the area and personally attempts to limit Jimmy’s influence on the community. That doesn’t stop the hall from reopening (briefly), with young audiences coming to spend time with friends, consume art and literature not approved by the church, and dance.
The actual story of the film is well-intended, and there’s potential here for a solid story about a dark part of Ireland’s history. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that this story could have used much more of the real-life Gralton’s Communist views. The film certainly picks sides in the fight between Gralton and the church, but it dilutes the political context that historians tend to believe pushed both Gralton and Father Sheridan. Instead, Sheridan’s anger toward Gralton comes across more as being a general prude than concern about his political views. For Loach, whose own politically socialist views tend to inform his films, it’s a surprising simplification. Jimmy’s Hall could use more complexity.