Film review: It’s religion vs. dancing in ‘Jimmy’s Hall’

Jimmy’s Hall is based on the real-life experiences of Irish activist Jimmy Gralton.

Three stars

Jimmy's HallBarry Ward, Simone Kirby, Jim Norton. Directed by Ken Loach. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.

Veteran English filmmaker Ken Loach has said that Jimmy’s Hall will likely be his final feature film, and if so, he’s going out on a fairly pedestrian note. That’s not to say Jimmy’s Hall doesn’t have its strengths, but its story, based on the real-life experiences of Irish activist Jimmy Gralton, is a bit predictable and heavy-handed.

Jimmy (Barry Ward) returns to his small Irish hometown in the early 1930s after living in exile in the U.S., and immediately reopens the community center that caused him so much trouble a decade earlier. The authoritarian local Catholic priest (Jim Norton) doesn’t approve of Jimmy providing a place for locals to dance (to sinful jazz music!), study art and discuss poetry, and he sets about trying to shut Jimmy down.

It might sound like the plot of Footloose, but the clash between the church and the townspeople is rooted in Irish politics, and specifically in accusations that Jimmy is a communist agitator. Loach uses this somewhat broad conflict to tell a story about the bitter divide among the Irish people following two wars, and the actors bring nuance to their sometimes thinly drawn characters. Jimmy’s Hall may lack the fire of Loach’s most acclaimed work, but it manages to make its point more quietly.

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