Last Wednesday my daughter Lara bought us all tickets to see Ken Loach’s latest film ‘Jimmy’s Hall’. I have followed Ken’s career in Film since I saw Kes as young man. I had never seen my South Yorkshire world portrayed so honestly on screen. His latest film is almost a sequel to ‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’; set in County Leitrim, Ireland.
It is the story of Jimmy Galtron; an ordinary man who sees the need, during the hegemony of the Catholic Church in Ireland, for safe and free space to nurture the spirit in each and every human soul. Understandably the Parish Priest takes against this corrugated iron roofed challenge to the world he has lordship over.
Wonderfully, Loach does not choose to portray either the Parish Priest or the curate as Aunt Sally’s – objects for our post modern disdain. They are sympathetically drawn and see the humanity in their enemy. Jimmy, warm and gracious, has that great gift of oratory and the common touch. The speech that Paul Laverty (the writer) and Loach put in his mouth, as he stands on the back of a truck, brings him powerfully into dialogue with our age. He speaks of the great depression, how the ordinary people are the victims who need to take up the cause for each other and change the way things are done.
Following the film we had signed up for a Q&A with the man himself: Mr Loach. Like Jimmy, he is full of wit and charm and that disarming quality – ordinariness. No fanfare, no ego strutting, just down to earth passion and bracing directness. The interaction with a Sheffield audience, bemoaning the lack of Jimmy Galtron’s in our apathetic time, was fascinating. It gradually dawned on me that we actually had a Jimmy Galtron in front of us. He talked of how important truthfulness was in his filmmaking, of how much time they spent in Leitrim talking to people who actually remembered the events. Why don’t films like this get a better deal from the cinemas?
He answered kindly and with depth and humour all comers. Then he left, alone, no entourage. We followed him down towards Sheffield Station (see picture). He was just another old man wandering home, unnoticed and unremarkable. Tom, my son who wants to be a film maker; ran down the ramp and shook his hand and thanked him. A warm smile and an encouraging word were Tom’s reward.
Those who stay in touch with the weave and weft of the average human life always have a story to tell that rings with alacrity. I have had some contact with the glitterati of the arts (once or twice) and it is immediately apparent that they have little idea of the strains and stresses of real life. In films like Tyrannosaur by Paddy Considine, or The Selfish Giant by Clio Barnard we are lucky to have more in the Loach style. We are so in need of art, film, poetry, narrative, and drama that offers a vision of how the ordinary man or woman, round the corner, up the street, in the local hall can change the world. When we encounter this kind of truth it awakens our own brand of truthfulness and makes the path that bit clearer in front of us.
This is what the great Boris Pasternak author of Doctor Zhivago says: ‘Art has two constant preoccupations – to meditate upon death and thus to create life’. Heroic and ordinary failures become prophets pointing towards a new space in the common story that, like Jimmy’s Hall, cannot be controlled by those who choose power over freedom.