The characters of Jimmy's Hall aren't really characters as much as archetypes: the saintly mother, the sweetheart, the hero, the villain. This is the kind of film where people don't argue - they debate - speaking in lines from manifestos and creating an incongruity. Jimmy's explanation for his preferring Ireland to New York is that "no one orders him around", yet given his recent history and the troubles he already sees on the horizon this seems numbingly naïve. In fact, for a full-time political activist, Gralton is remarkably passive and insipid. There's no fire in his belly, no anger in his heart. When he's called upon to help some evicted tenants reclaim their property, he opens the whole thing up for debate and then seems to let everyone else decide for him. The script from from regular Loach collaborator Paul Laverty feels airless, as if nothing much is at stake. Likewise, the pair contrive to have the decision to reopen the hall feel like something Jimmy has been pushed into. This is a classic screenwriting ploy, but sits awkwardly with a supposed political freedom fighter.
When Gralton does get up to give a speech, Laverty is so concerned that we, the audience, understand the contemporary echoes of the Wall Street Crash that he forgets Jimmy's actual audience are perhaps going to be more inspired if he says something about Ireland and the land problem - the reason they're actually there. At least Loach's latest looks the part thanks to Robbie Ryan's cinematography, while George Fenton's score offers up a mix of period jazz and traditional Irish music. The actors do their best with the ideospeak, but only Norton gets anything out of his part as a priest who recognises in his adversary a nobler man than many of his allies. Even Sheridan seems underdeveloped and a sop to the Catholic Church. In Loach's Ireland there's not much drinking, no real dissension and little humour beyond a cheery camaraderie. Jimmy's Hall may have been built with the best of intentions, but it's in desperate need of a craic or two.
The 67th Cannes Film Festival takes place from 14-25 May 2014. For more Cannes coverage, simply follow this link.