It’s not difficult to see what attracted perennial rabble-rousers Ken Loach and Paul Laverty to the tale of rabble-rousing, Church-baiting activist Jimmy Gralton. The only Irishman to ever be deported from his home country, Gralton railed against workers’ persecution and the oppressive Catholic doctrine of post-Civil War Ireland, his tale serving as a poignant coda to the filmmakers' Palm d'Or winner, The Wind that Shakes the Barley. What might be surprising is the lightness with which this story is brought to the screen.
Jimmy’s Hall refers to the free space Gralton set up for likeminded locals to educate themselves, dance and listen to music outside the strict boundaries of the Church, which of course was met with fierce opposition. The picture essentially plays out like a socialist Footloose, Barry Ward’s charming Gralton battling Jim Norton’s complex, conflicted Father Sheridan for the hearts and minds of the community. It’s all very skilfully done; sharp direction and scripting creates believable, lived-in characters and nuanced dynamics between them, and it’s delivered with more joy and optimism than fury at the past. A really delightful dramatic swan song for Loach, should he stick to his tragic threat of retirement.