Jimmy’s Hall

Not unfairly described as Footloose transposed to Depression-era Ireland, Ken Loach’s mild-mannered historical drama may itself soon enough fade into history. But even an ultimately forgettable effort from this esteemed social-realist director can’t help but achieve eloquence in its affirmation of basic human decency. Gently left-leaning rabble-rouser and modest heartthrob Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) seems like someone who can only exist in misty-eyed movies, but well, a movie is what this is, so there you go. In Loach’s scenario, Jimmy returns from America to a homeland still reeling from civil war, not to mention worldwide financial collapse, and reopens the defunct dancehall and cultural center he built with some pals to the great chagrin of an oppressively uptight Catholic Church. His friends are many but his enemies are mighty. Arguing with the presiding local priest (Jim Norton), Jimmy summarizes their ideological conflict thusly: “I’ll tell you what is sacrilege father: having more hate in your heart than love.” This idea is taken under advisement. Unambiguously, the priest is the villain of the piece, but Norton’s multidimensional performance makes it clear that he’s also a human being. And it’s to Loach’s credit that right-side-of-history retrospect doesn’t seem excessively righteous.