“Reports of Ken Loach’s ‘retirement’ have been greatly exaggerated,” begins Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter, “which is welcome news, as the frustratingly inert Jimmy’s Hall would have been a bathetic end to such an important and inspirational career. Dealing with Irish political and social matters in the aftermath of the early 1920s civil war by focusing on the only Irishman ever to be deported from his homeland, the U.K.-Ireland-France co-production can be plausibly marketed as an informal follow-up of sorts to Loach’s 2006 Palme d’Or winner, The Wind That Shakes the Barley. But while such comparisons certainly aren’t to the new film’s advantage, Loach’s Cannes contenders—he’s had a record dozen films in competition—tend to come away with some kind of prize.”
But for Little White Lies‘ David Jenkins, Jimmy’s Hall “assures us that [Loach] doesn’t have to forcibly imbue each frame he films with the germ of some fist-shaking liberal treatise or attack on privilege, civil liberties or Mrs. Thatcher. Jimmy’s Hall is a beautiful and deceptively complex film which expends entirely with the moaning (okay, well not entirely) in order to put pure faith back into the images…. This is Loach at his most laid-back and peaceable, as he allows his righteous anger to naturally emerge through the tersely (but effectively) drawn characters and their simple relationships to one another.”
“The hall in question was the Pearse-Connolly Hall, put up in the 1920s in County Leitrim by the charismatic Irish communist leader Jimmy Gralton,” explains the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw. “Gralton infuriated the leaders of Ireland’s post-civil war church and state for daring to make his building a dance hall for raucous nights out, as well as a daytime venue for educational classes. Appallingly, people were encouraged to enjoy themselves there. Fun and secular thinking? What a double whammy.” The story “becomes a duel between the truculent, articulate Gralton, played by Barry Ward and a ferocious parish priest, played by Jim Norton—contemptuous of modernity and on a mission to destroy this antichrist of the left.”
Time Out‘s Dave Calhoun: “Is it too much of a stretch to think of Gralton as a version of Loach himself: who in films over five decades has stuck two fingers up at the establishment, asking hard questions about the world while entertaining? Politics and entertainment are never an easy mix, and Jimmy’s Hall is a familiar, slightly unsurprising coming together of the two from Loach and his writer Paul Laverty. Sometimes you can see the joins, but there’s also great warmth, charm and humor among the ideas, and the sense of time and place is especially strong.”
The Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin finds it “all well-enough acted and handsomely shot by Loach’s cinematographer Robbie Ryan, but subtlety is conspicuously missing. Jimmy is a noble, stag-like beast, around whom his comrades cluster like moths to a torch; the Church and police, meanwhile, are conniving, pop-eyed rotters, happy to support whichever fascist, leftie-baiting thugs happen to blow through town that week…. The film’s secret weapon is Eileen Henry, a first-time actress who plays Jimmy’s mother. Loach discovered her at an open casting session, and she bustles about with a Mrs Tiggywinkle-like charm, while bringing moral texture that’s entirely lacking elsewhere.”
But Variety‘s Scott Foundas finds the film “infused with a gentle romanticism that buoys the film without cheapening the gravity of its subject…. Loach’s filmmaking here has an elegant simplicity and flow from one scene to the next, enhanced by the subtle but beautifully detailed work of production designer Fergus Clegg and costume designer Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh. Shooting on 35mm film, DP Robbie Ryan makes fine use of natural light, and bathes the dancehall scenes in a warm gaslamp glow.”
Back on the other hand, Jessica Kiang, writing at the Playlist, argues that “this is paint-by-numbers political filmmaking, and Loach is better than that.”
Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn: “In the aftermath of the movie’s first Cannes screening, many journalists made the obvious comparison with Footloose, in which teen rock lover Kevin Bacon runs up against buttoned-up priest John Lithgow. But the similarities only go surface-deep. Set in the aftermath of the Anglo-Irish Treaty that divided the nation, Jimmy’s Hall captures more than simply the early stirrings of a cultural revolution. It situates them in the tense, claustrophobic world where any secular form of expression was an automatic taboo.”
The Guardian‘s running a good long talk Danny Leigh had with Loach during a set visit; Hannah Furness interviews Loach as well, for the Telegraph.
Updates, 5/24: “In the UK,” writes Nick Roddick for Sight & Sound, “we hover in our attitude to Loach between the reverential—he is, after Hitchcock, the only other film director to have been turned into an adjective—and condescension, as if consistency of message was caused by lack of creative imagination. Europe thinks otherwise… Loach has never made a bad film—or a film for no reason. But his films can only be as good as their subject matter, and the subject matter of Jimmy’s Hall is too slight to bear the weight of what would seem to be a fairly (by Loachian standards) hefty budget. His place in the history of Cannes is assured, as it is in the history of cinema. But in terms of its impact and resonance, Jimmy’s Hall—how I wish I could report otherwise—ends a magnificent career on a somewhat muted note.”
“It’s a typically warmhearted, rousing effort, with only trace amounts of leftist anger, but I just couldn’t get past the broad caricatures that populate it,” writes Mike D’Angelo at the Dissolve.
“Loach, working in his usual handsome but never snazzy style, wrings some tender pathos from his hero’s reunion with his old flame,” grants the AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd. “But he also stacks the deck so entirely in Jimmy’s favor that the film never rises above the level of a mildly stirring protest song.”
“Jimmy’s Hall may be another ‘Ireland for the Irish’ fable from a director with umpteen such outings before,” writes Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times. “But it’s still a charmer with a brain in its head. Those are what Loach does best.”
“As working class drama, Jimmy’s Hall lacks any shred of subtlety or complexity of political thought,” finds Barbara Scharres at RogerEbert.com. “It seems like Loach was aching to make a music film, and his lust for the lively tunes shows throughout. It’s too bad he was so wedded to the politics.”
Fabien Lemercier talks with Loach at Cineuropa, where Domenico La Porta writes: “At 77 years of age, Ken Loach says he’s tired, and yet he has created a dynamic and animated film.”
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