"Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow," declared Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In the case of Jimmy Gralton, she took bites and spat him out a couple times. It's tempting to say some people never learn, but, as played by Barry Ward, Jimmy is such an idealistic and -- let's face it -- good-lookin' guy that you forgive his ingenuousness.
In director Ken Loach’s latest (24th!) feature, Ward plays a historical figure deported from his homeland without trial in 1932, mainly for setting up the "Pearse-Connolly Hall" -- a community center for dance, talk, and music: the Irish specialty. Using emigration and return as metaphor for Ireland, it's the story of a land with no jobs (at times), especially during the Depression years. The film opens with archival footage of the American jazz Gralton grew to love during his first decade of living in New York, before he returned to his two "mas" -- Ireland itself and his own mother.
Still at home is the love of his life, Oonagh (Simone Kirby), as well as entrenched priests and conservative forces, despite the years of struggle. Loach is a pure spirit in the world of directing, for over 40 years sticking to his vision of the betrayal of the working class. He and his longtime scriptwriter Paul Laverty have found a figure you might see as Loach’s intellectual double; maybe this accounts for some of the speechifying dialogue, as various political positions are explained. But in Jimmy's Hall we have the enlivening help of cinematographer Robbie Ryan, who offers a more realistic mix of green and brown than the standard verdant Gaelic hues.