Following the conclusion of the Irish War of Independence of 1919-21, Irish self-rule was established by the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which provided for the establishment of the Irish Free State as a self-governing dominion within the British Commonwealth of Nations. Disagreement over this treaty lead to the Irish Civil War of 1922-23, which left bitter and lasting schisms in the country. (I had vaguely known that there was an Irish Civil War, but it bled together with the War of Independence in my mind--.)
The main character, James Gralton, as an anti-treaty republican, had been forced to flee Ireland in 1922, going to the United States. In 1932, he returned, and tried to pick up life in his home town. The movie is the story of what happened then, with flashbacks to the parallel events of 1922.
At first, Gralton wants a quiet life. But then, responding to the pleas of the young people in town, stultified by lack of opportunity and lack of cultural stimulation in Depression-era Ireland, he agrees to re-open the community hall that was built on his land in the 20’s. While intended to be a peaceful place for educational and cultural activities, the Hall draws the ire of the Catholic Church, which claims a monopoly on all education in Ireland, and the suspicion of the Nationalist government, who view it as a likely focus for IRA-related political activities. While the Church’s fears about “teaching Communism” and “immorality” (i.e., jazz) are mostly unfounded, Gralton can’t help but get drawn into strife between the Nationalist government, representing the landed vested interests, and the IRA representing dispossessed tenants. Gralton and the Hall become the targets of escalating retaliatory action, until, echoing the events of 1922, he becomes a hunted man. Condemned without trial, he was ordered deported on the grounds that he held a United States passport, and was therefore an undesirable alien. Gralton remains the only Irishman ever to have been deported from Ireland*. Even when Ireland ceased to be a dominion in 1937, he was not permitted to return.
The various actors play their roles with passion and honesty, showing us the moral, philosophical, and practical dilemmas they are faced with. Barry Ward as Gralton is very good, but he’s somewhat overshadowed by the villain of the piece, Jim Norton as Father Sheridan, the parish priest. While he rants a good hellfire sermon about saving souls, he also shows that he’s capable of a Stasi-like surveillance of his parishioners, and, in private, frankly admits that it is all about power and control.
The film is beautifully shot in the areas events actually happened, and gives some insight into a rarely portrayed time and place, although somewhat prettified for movie purposes. (Evidently, Gralton was much more of a Communist than shown--.) We found the film very interesting and were glad to have seen it.
(*I found this injustice shocking. Then, this morning, I learned that. Between 1930 and 1945, the United States summarily deported (or “repatriated”) two million persons of Mexican origin, of which 1.3 million were naturalized citizens of the United States.)
This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/277508.html. Please comment there using OpenID.