By Liz Lopez
Immigration, wars, death and poverty are frequent topics found in media outlets and are often hot topics on social media that generate many comments. A younger generation or someone unfamiliar with U. S. or World History may think these are “trending” or “current” topics, but it is far from correct. Sony Pictures Classics’ new feature film, Jimmy’s Hall, is a drama set in the early 1930s in Ireland. It does not focus on immigration and deportation, but they are indeed part of the reality Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) endured. The ‘hall’ referred to here is a community center with a focus on the arts, including music and dance – and it is also used as a meeting space where politics and issues related to the poor and voiceless are discussed.
The screenplay written by Paul Laverty, based on Donal O’Kelly’s play, does not provide full details about what Gralton actually did to cause him to be in exile for ten years in the United States. This does not make it a lesser film though. Early in the film the viewer is provided history about the wars in Ireland, the ill feelings held by many civilians and a quick labeling of being a Communist if actions are not in line with what the local priest Father Sheridan (Jim Norton), and Commander Dennis O’Keefe (Brian F. O’Byrne), a fascist leader, among others, thought was correct. I recommend this film based on a non – fictional character who was deported from his own country of birth as a way to be rid of him for activism and influence on others.
I also like the use of footage and photos from the Depression era at the beginning of the film to show how bleak the world was, not only in the U. S., but also around the world. Jimmy’s intentions to live a quiet life quickly change at the urging of the locals, both the elders and the youth who resort to dancing in the dirt roads for entertainment. Once the hall is remodeled and brought to life and again, many gather to enjoy what is offered at the center. During the time spent in New York, Jimmy learned plenty of music and dance routines. He is able to share the vinyl records and teach. There is great music and dance to be appreciated in the film, by George Fenton with cinematography by Robbie Ryan.
Jimmy’s widowed mother, Alice (Aileen Henry) is happy to have her son back, but she also knows what the priest believes and how much influence he has, which ultimately will lead to problems for her male offspring. Overall, the scenes she has are good, but I definitely enjoyed her performance where several of the law enforcement officials come for Jimmy, yet they sit down for tea she offers. This brings some humor to the film that also has gun violence, as well as violence by an enraged father with his daughter. I cringed during that scene although this is a PG-13 rated film.
I found some scenes hard to watch when the reality of how activists are treated and what they face because they are considered a “danger” by those who manipulate and bully others in the community. Although the story is about individuals over eighty years ago, some of the issues seem to ring true today.
Jimmy’s Hall opens at the Regal Arbor in Austin on July 31st.