Recounting the incredible true story of activist Jimmy Gralton, the new film from revered British director Ken Loach (The Angels’ Share, The Wind That Shakes the Barley) creates a stirring drama from a tumultuous yet little-known chapter of Irish history.
Upon returning to his Irish hometown of Effrinagh from America in the early 1930s to care for his ailing mother, Gralton (Barry Ward) reopens a community dance hall that he had founded before the war. “Jimmy’s Hall” quickly becomes popular with local youth as a place to gather, dance to jazz, and host community events and debates. But, fearful that the hall is serving as a breeding ground for permissiveness, Americanization, and political radicalism — especially after Gralton joins the Revolutionary Workers’ Group, the forerunner of the Irish Communist Party — the local church attempts to shut it down. This only serves to stoke the fires of discontent among the local populace, bringing the church leadership into conflict with both the working class and changing mores. As Gralton becomes an ever greater thorn in the side of conservative authority (which includes not only the Catholic Church, but the former revolutionaries of Sinn Féin and the IRA), the forces of repression are driven to an extreme, unprecedented — and shameful — measure to quash this burgeoning movement of grassroots progressivism.
Anchored by strong, naturalistic performances and buoyed by the exciting music of the time, the rousing Jimmy’s Hall is on a smaller scale than the war epic of The Wind That Shakes the Barley, but proudly carries on the tradition of committed political and social filmmaking for which Loach is rightfully renowned.