Jimmy's Hall, film review: Ken Loach tells his latest story in a sprightly and very engaging way

(12A) Ken Loach, 109 mins. Starring: Barry Ward, Simone Kirby, Andrew Scott
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The Independent Culture

Jimmy's Hall is one of the sunniest, most optimistic films in the Ken Loach canon. It has some typically bleak elements – families evicted from their cottages by ruthless landowners, class warfare, deportations, domestic violence – and yet it shows the venerable director's faith in a younger generation's ability to overturn its parents' mistakes.

The story is largely set in 1932/33, a decade after the Irish Civil War whose scars are yet fully to heal. Communist activist James Gralton (Barry Ward) , who has just returned home to Ireland after many years in exile in New York, reopens the Pearse-Connolly Hall. The hall hosts wild parties, art lessons, literary discussions, poetry readings and political debate. The landowners and the Catholic Church thoroughly disapprove.

Early-1930s Ireland is re-created in best Hovis ad fashion. Rugged rural landscapes are inhabited by characters in flat caps and tweed jackets. Paul Laverty's screenplay isn't subtle. Jimmy, very attractively played by Ward, is a good-natured folk hero. The priests and landowners are callous, cruel and akin to pantomime villains.

The film ends abruptly. Certain key relationships aren't explained or explored in any depth. Even so, Loach's affection and respect for his characters is self-evident and he tells Jimmy's story in a sprightly and very engaging way.