The first thing to note about the premiere of Ken Loach’s new movie in the Lighthouse cinema in Dublin’s Smithfield last night is that the President attended. The second thing is that there was no fuss, no anthem, no speech, no standing on ceremony. Just the way it ought to be in a republic.
Loach was warm in his praise of President Higgins – “Though I hear you’ve been mixed in more exalted company from the UK recently” he joked – and suggested that the President have a word with the UK government on the subject of support for film.
The film is a typical Ken Loach movie, which is to say that the left-wing message is put on with a trowel. But it is still a powerful piece of film-making and story-telling, based on the true story of Jimmy Gralton, a Leitrim man who built a community hall on his farm in the 1920s.
Nothing untoward happened in this hall. There were poetry readings, singing lessons and boxing classes. And dances. All of these were an affront to the parish priest, and he formed a powerful coalition with local businessmen, the gardai and even the army.
Gralton got involved in local disputes over land, siding always with the working man. But the forces ranged against him were too great. Eventually, he was deported, without trial.
Barry Ward gives a fine performance as Gralton. He is low-key and subtle, as you would expect from Loach’s direction, yet when he has to deliver a fiery speech from the back of a cart, he doesn’t quite have the oomph for it.
Simone Kirby plays Oonagh, the girl he left behind 10 years ago when he left for America. This is another fine performance, sensitive and moving. Aisling Franciosi (from ‘Quirke’) has a great freshness and energy as Marie, one of the Hall’s young regulars.
Jim Norton, the old warhorse of an actor, is majestic as Father Sheridan, whether from pulpit, confessional or taking names at the side of the road.
It is good to be reminded every now and then that we were once even more priest-ridden and oligarcical than we are now.
The politics were confusing, and I could not work out which side Gralton had followed in the Civil War. His deportation order was signed by a Fianna Fáil minister, suggesting he was a Free Stater. But the clergy, the ranchers and the police were against him, suggesting he was a Republican.
Perhaps, he was simply that most attractive of things to Ken Loach: a working class hero.
The movie got a 15-minute standing ovation at Cannes, but that could have been out of guilt. “Forget Cannes,” said Ken Loach last night, of the Irish premiere, “this is the big one!”
IMDb entry here.
Lighthouse cinema details here.