“I’d like to be able to do one more,” Ken Loach said when I interviewed him recently. If the 76-year-old director was sounding a little wearier than usual it may have been because he was simultaneously promoting “The Angels’ Share” for its American release and “The Spirit of ’45” in the UK. A documentary about Britain’s brief socialist revolution after World War II (and Margaret Thatcher’s subsequent dismantling of it), the latter has been widely acclaimed by liberals and leftists.
At the time, Loach wasn’t permitted to say what the “one more” would be, although some details leaked out during the Berlin European Film Market in February. It was confirmed in Screen Daily today that Loach and his frequent collaborators, producer Rebecca O’Brien and writer Paul Laverty, would embark on “Jimmy’s Hall” at the end of this summer. And then, presumably, there will be another “one more.”
The movie promises to dovetail partially with “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” the trio’s Palme d’Or-winning 2006 drama about the Irish War of Independence (1919-21) and the Irish Civil War (1922-23). The Jimmy in question is the tenacious communist James Gralton (1886-1945), who was born in Effernagh, near Gowel, in County Leitrim. Forced to immigrate to the United States in 1909, he became active in American labor struggles and joined the Irish republican organization the Connolly Club (named for James Connolly, who was killed by a British firing squad for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising).
Gralton returned to Leitrim in June 1921, just before the War of Independence ended. Because Winston Churchill’s Black and Tans had burned down the Gowel social club, Gralton built a new one on his parents’ land. He named it the Pearse-Connolly Hall – Patrick Pearse being the nationalist poet, lawyer, and revolutionary who was executed nine days before Connolly.
As well as being a popular nightclub, Jimmy’s hall become a base for political education – which should allow Loach and Laverty to celebrate its members enjoying themselves and facilitate the feisty political debates that percolate in many of their films. Gralton also set up a committee there to help tenant farmers regain lands from which they’d been evicted. The place came to be known as the Gowel Soviet.
Attacked by the clergy, Gralton was hunted by Free State troops and fled back to America, where he helped found the Transport Workers’ Union. Back in Ireland in 1932, he reopened the hall. This Irish socialist politician’s website tells a story about an irate canon threatening to put horns on Gralton for his activities and the offender coming to the priest’s home to have them fitted. The hall was fired on in November that year and burned down on Christmas Eve.
After going on the run, Gralton was deported by Éamon de Valera’s government in August 1933. In New York once more, he became a union organizer and a Communist Party member, and raised funds for the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. He died in 1945 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
An Irish Advocate’s obituarist wrote: “One might disagree with Gralton, but nobody could doubt his sincerity. Let all of us, who believe in the principles for which Gralton stood, pledge ourselves anew to the continuation of the fight for complete political, cultural, and economic rights of the working classes in all lands.”
Given that he had worked as a docker in Liverpool and as a miner in Wales in his 20s, Gralton is the archetypal Loach and Laverty protagonist — he embodied the social and political concerns that the director has voiced throughout his 51-year career.
Loach is currently scouting locations in Leitrim and Sligo, Screen reports. The Paris-based producer-distributor and sales company Wild Bunch is backing the project, along with Element Pictures, the Irish Film Board, and Why Not. Channel 4’s Film4 is expected to participate.