I hadn’t seen a Ken Loach film in years because I got sick of his schmaltzy sexism but yesterday decided to give him another try and popped along to see his latest, Jimmy’s Hall. Set in 1930s Ireland, it tells the true-life story of self-educated, community-serving James Gralton, who enraged the Catholic church and the local land owners by setting up a community centre that served as a meeting place for ideas and, God forbid, dancing.
Perhaps he’s returned to form, I thought on my way to the cinema, and produced something gutsy like Cathy Come Home or Kes. These story lines usually warm my cynical old heart, so I approached Jimmy’s Hall with a hopeful spring in my step. In truth, the only reason I decided to give Loach another chance is because it is set in County Leitrim, where my dog is from (anyone thinking this is a tenuous link please note that I am a middle-aged lesbian).
But Jimmy’s Bar is a load of old sexist shite, and having endured it to the end, I have to admit that Loach could not give a hoot about women. The two female characters in Jimmy’s Hall are a love interest – all fluttering eyelids and coy glances – and a classic Irish mammy, her apron-clad bosom heaving as she busies herself worrying about her sons and the consistency of her Irish stew. What hurts most is that the mammy – played by first-timer Eileen Henry – was the best of the bunch, but, because she wasn’t there for her tits and ass, she was underused. Loach saves complexity for the character of nasty Father Sheridan, the priest who hates Jimmy.
Loach is a man of the people, but only people with a penis. Like me, he is a socialist, concerned with telling the story of working-class struggles.