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The film is inspired by the life of Jimmy Gralton, the only Irishman ever to be deported from the Republic of Ireland and died in exile in New York City. It only covers a limited time of Gralton’s life; starting from his return home following the death of his brother to help his aged mum run the farm in 1932, following 10 years of civil war in Ireland, his reopening of the dance hall that reopens old wounds not quite healed, the conflict with the ruling classes and his eventual deportation and exile.
The film is an obvious companion piece to The Wind That Shakes The Barley also focusing on the Irish Civil War and rejoins director Ken Loach with screenwriter Paul Laverty who wrote not only The Wind That Shakes the Barley but this latest film Jimmy Gralton.
Fans of Ken Loach will not be disappointed. He offers a master class in taking a simple symbol of a dancing hall to show the insecurity of the ruling classes trying to oppress the working man through fear that they may unite and demand the rights that they are entitled to. However, it only shows a snapshot of Gralton’s life and leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Although set in the past it is clear that Loach is commenting on the present day, the greed of the early 2000’s will come back to haunt us in the same way as Gralton’s character talks of the roaring 20s and the unlimited greed and then the bubble burst.
Having said all that, don’t expect the complex characters and richness of story that was offered in The Wind That Shakes the Barley, it is not here, in choosing not to explain fully or delve deeper into why Jimmy Gralton was held in such high esteem is a disservice. Whilst it shone a light on someone that most people including myself had never heard of is much in Loach’s favour it would have been a reacher experience if the film covered more of his life before his departure to New York, there are only a limited flashbacks.
It is well worth a look if only to learn of a person who most of us had never heard of and the outstanding scene of dancing between the characters of Jimmy Gralton and Oonagh in the hall that captures the full spectrum of emotions between past lovers who know that they can never be that way again.