Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. United Kingdom/Ireland/France, 2014. Sixteen Films, Element Pictures, Why Not Productions, Wild Bunch, British Film Institute, Film4, Irish Film Board. Screenplay by Paul Laverty, based on the play by Donal O’Kelly. Cinematography by Robbie Ryan. Produced by Rebecca O’Brien. Music by George Fenton. Production Design by Fergus Clegg. Costume Design by Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh. Film Editing by Jonathan Morris. Cannes Film Festival 2014.
True story of Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward), who returns to Ireland in 1932 after ten years of exile in America, a dedicated socialist with no religious sentiment; in an Ireland whose civil war has been won by a British-backed, Catholic church-approved government, this makes him an immediate target for enemies. His appearance on Emerald shores combined with his reopening his famed community center providing dance lessons, a few reading classes and boxing practice to any locals who wish to come, gets opposition from a real stiff of a Catholic priest who can make no room for Jimmy’s presence let alone his politics. Simone Kirby is lovely as the woman Gralton left behind to be married to a man she never loved nearly as much, while Gralton’s feisty, aging mother (Aileen Henry), who in her younger years was manager of the village library (which the film slyly suggests is where Jimmy got all those delicious Marxist ideas) worries about his safety. Ken Loach will never lose his ability to make a good film, but he has become slightly didactic in his old age and is possibly frustrated that the politics of his films haven’t had a better influence in his decades of work; what was once strongly felt but gently told messages in movies like Kes is now bordering on browbeating, detailing far too plainly (and in some cases with surprisingly bland dialogue by screenwriter Paul Laverty) the pure good intentions on the part of our hero and nothing but selfish vitriol coming from the power structure represented by the church (not to mention a few silly moments of manipulation, such as turning Gralton’s mother into one of the carburetor-stealing nuns from The Sound of Music). I’m not saying that Laverty or Loach are delivering a false message, and the film is powerful because what else could it possibly be, but the lack of complexity in their characterization of Gralton makes for a flat protagonist at the centre of a beautifully shot story, and as dreamy as Ward is in the lead, his uncomplicated and lackluster performance doesn’t help much.