26 January 2022 The Irish Film & Television Network
'Jimmy’s Hall' Out in Cinemas Today – IFTN speaks with Cast & Crew
30 May 2014 : Deirdre Molumby
Simone Kirby and Barry Ward play Oonagh and Jimmy
Fresh from Cannes, at which the cast and crew received a 14 minute-long standing ovation at the film premiere and the film secured a US distribution deal with Sony, the highly-anticipated ‘Jimmy’s Hall’ is showing in Irish cinemas from today. IFTN had the opportunity to not only speak to stars Barry Ward and Simone Kirby, who play the title role and his love interest respectively, but was also given an audience with its director Ken Loach, one of the most highly-revered directors of Britain, and long-time writing partner Paul Laverty, of Irish and Scottish descent.

Based on a true story, Jimmy’s Hall’ relates the story of Jimmy Gralton, a socialist Irish man who in the 1930s returns from America to Leitrim to care for his mother. Encouraged by the local young people who are bored and eager for activity, Jimmy decides to re-open a community hall which once served as a centre for learning by day and dance by night before it was closed by the Catholic Church shortly after he left for the US. Now Jimmy must face off the church again as well as being challenged on the grounds of his political sympathies.

The highly-anticipated ‘Jimmy’s Hall’ marks Ken Loach’s latest collaboration with Irish-Scottish writer Paul Laverty. The two also worked on the critically-acclaimed award-winning ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’, and many have commented that ‘Jimmy’s Hall’ works as a companion piece to it as it is set in the decade after its predecessor. The 1920s saw a hostile political climate in Ireland, and the tension of the aftermath was carried on into the 30s.

Director Ken Loach is eager to talk about the political nature of the film, and how actually, as a result of being joined by class oppression, the British may not be so different from the Irish after all: “the often calamitous history of Britain in Ireland, the British intervention in the lives of Irish people, is one that very clearly shows the consequences of imperialism, the oppression of one group of people by another. The story of the Irish and British people illustrates that in a very clear, simple way.

“So it’s important for us to set the record straight as Brits, but also the class that organised the oppression in Ireland is the same class that organised oppression in Britain. They were equally victims of that same class, so I think it is important to see it in class terms as well as national terms.”

Scriptwriter Paul Laverty talks about how playwright Dónal Kelly inspired Loach and Laverty to make a film about Jimmy Gralton: “He told us about Jimmy so it was thanks to Dónal’s generosity that we came across this story of the hall.

“What fascinated us was the fact that it was built by community labour and volunteers to create this free space where neither the church nor the rich and powerful could interfere. So the idea of this group of people coming together on their own terms and trying to protect this free space where people could think and dance and have fun with each other was such a wonderful idea, just bursting with possibilities. It was almost like a little gift to us.”

Filmed in Leitrim and Sligo, ‘Jimmy’s Hall’ had a largely Irish crew behind it, with about 90% of the production team being from Ireland. Some of the key creators behind the 1930s Irish look were art director Stephen Daly, costume designer Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh, production designer Fergus Clegg, locations manager Niall Martin, Jim King and Kieran Hennessy.

Equally, an entirely Irish cast was essential to the film’s authenticity, with Barry Ward and Simone Kirby leading the actors as Jimmy Gralton and his love interest, Oonagh. To prepare for the role, Kirby says “we both did the same kind of research actually. We both did a couple of months of dance training and then we both read this book called ‘The Cause of Ireland’ by Liz Curtis, which I think everybody read, just to get our heads into the time and the politics just preceding so we would have that fresh in our minds. Then we went to Ireland and we did a couple of weeks of research with the core older group that are in the film, and we went around and saw Jimmy Gralton’s real cottage.”

Ward continues, “We saw his family as well, and we had a historian we used to see called Donal O Drisceoil, who gives really good lectures on the political climate at the time. Liz Curtis and Donal O Drisceoil were giving a more accurate, alternative history of Ireland than the ones we’re privy to in school, stuff that you can’t get in books. So that was really helpful, and I went to work on a farm for a while, I invented my own ‘Jimmy Gralton’ diet, trying to physically get into this role. It was a full immersion, which really helped then because then you turn up on set and you feel totally ready.”

Every actor in the world relishes the opportunity to work with so great a director as Ken Loach, and so Ward tells IFTN the pleasure the actors had of working with Loach: “It was wonderful, he was a great guy and great to hang out with. His hours are so civilised that you get to hang out with him afterwards off set, which was a lot of fun. He dragged me to a lot of Sligo Rovers football games… He superseded our expectations. The only disappointment I had when I met him, and I’ve been a massive, massive fan for years having idolised him, was that I’d underestimated him.”

However, equally important to the leads’ relationship with the director, was the director’s relationship with each cast and crew member. Community is an integral part both to the production of Loach’s films, as well as a key theme in the films produced themselves, seen in ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’ too, for example. Laverty tells us about how the importance of a community was no different in ‘Jimmy’s Hall’, as “for every person in that hall, you feel like they’re all there equally.

“Obviously you can pick out Barry who plays Jimmy and you pick out Simone[’s character Oonagh] because there’s a story between them, but when you see everyone there, you feel like they’re their own people. And I loved how all those scenes in the hall, you feel there’s a respect for each person. They’re not just stuffed animals, as some films do with the extras. Everyone is an actor and playing a part. They were a lovely bunch of people too, the kids were lovely, practising their dancing and playing instruments. They had great fun and worked very, very hard.”

Between an emphasis on community, endurance, and working together, there are a number of messages to ‘Jimmy’s Hall’. As Simone Kirby puts it, “nowadays people can be quite greedy and quite selfish about minding their own patch, but the wonderful thing about the movie is everybody putting in all their work and all their time into something, not for what they can get out of it as an individual but for what the community can get out of it,” to which Ward adds, “And I’d further that by saying that it’s also a very viable alternative political system that does and can work, if people want to do it.”

Simone Kirby will next be appearing on the small screen for TV series ‘Peaky Blinders’, opposite Cillian Murphy, and the next season of ‘Love/Hate’. Barry Ward will next appear in feature film ‘Shooting for Socrates’ and British road movie ‘Blood Cells’.

As for the speculation as to whether or not Ken Loach is returning to directing, the 77 year old British director is determined to remain mysterious. Upon being asked what is next for him, he plainly answers, “The World Cup… and then we’ll see what happens after that.”

‘Jimmy’s Hall’ is released in theatres nationwide today.

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