Having escaped various dramas in his native Ireland ten years earlier, socialist activist Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) returns in 1932 to his elderly mother’s farm. Once home, some of the locals beg him to re-open the community hall. Ken Loach’s drama, Jimmy’s Hall, is based on real events, and recounts what happens when the hall is unshuttered.
As expected, others don’t welcome what finds space in the hall, such as the dancing to the jazz records Hall has brought from America, or the meetings among tenant farmers. Complicating it all is a new political reality following Ireland’s independence, and of course, the omnipresent Catholic Church, represented locally by the sniffy Father Sheridan (Jim Norton).
The specifics and nuances of some of the story’s conflicts are rooted in Ireland’s messy politics, and may be lost to contemporary viewers despite various on-screen explanations. But it won’t matter that much: The main heroes and villains are drawn broadly enough.
Jimmy’s Hall is prettily filmed, and just mildly interesting, provocative and entertaining. It never finds its footing as a rousing work of righteous populism, a historical political drama or a more palatable underdog tale with heartwarming musical numbers. Like a fruitcake, viewers get bits of all of it, but like a fruitcake, it’s a bit bland and unsatisfying.