JIMMY’S Hall, Ken Loach’s latest film, casts an eye back on an Ireland in the firm grip of unbending conservatism and an Ennis woman plays one of the lead roles.
Simone Kirby plays the love interest of Jimmy Gralton, who set up a dance hall in 1930’s Leitrim, before being deported from his home country on a flimsy pretext. Another Ennis actor, Denise Gough, also has a smaller part.
Speaking from London, Simone explained the story and how Gralton became a victim of the prevailing powers of the time.
“The real Jimmy Gralton was deported from Ireland back in the ’30s. I’d never heard of him, we never learned about him in school or anything so it was news to me that anyone had been deported from Ireland. Basically, he had opened a dance hall on his father’s land and the Church were unimpressed, because education and dances had always been under their control. Suddenly, there was this dance hall that was giving free education, free classes, free dances and they were playing jazz records and all that kind of thing. Basically, the Church and the State conspired to have him deported from the country by calling him an illegal alien because he had spent time outside of the country, even though he was Irish. It was a complete farce.”
While it looks at some unsavoury elements of times past, she says it isn’t an unpleasant film. “It has those dark elements in it but it’s not really a dark film. Ken has done dark films in the past but this is probably one of his lighter films. Because of the dancing and the community spirit, there’s a lot of joy in the film as well. There are some very funny scenes but there is that dark side too. The priest who’s in it, even though he’s not the nicest character, he’s not one-dimensional either. You can empathise a bit with the priest as well and the position that he’s in.”
Loach is one of Britain’s most celebrated and talented filmmakers, now in the latter stages of an epic career. Simone said she was delighted to get the chance to work with him, who she says lives by his principles. “He absolutely is very political, he’s a socialist through and through. Fairness and equality are absolutely his thing. Nobody on set is in trailers, there’s no preferential treatment like that, everybody just hangs out at a marquee. He doesn’t get first class flights. Ken is somebody who doesn’t stay in five-star hotels, it’s not his style at all. He’s a very interesting person to be around.”
Her own character in Jimmy’s Hall is fictional. The writers had almost no knowledge of what Jimmy Gralton’s personal life in Leitrim might have been like. “There’s very little in the history books about Jimmy Gralton, the whole story was brushed under the carpet. In terms of his personal life, there’s not much there. They imagined that a man in the prime of his life, who had such an energy about him, must have been quite an attractive figure for people to be around and perhaps there was someone who loved him. They spoke to his family to ask them if it was a possibility, they basically said ‘it’s very possible, we don’t know’. That’s where my character comes in, she’s basically his love interest. But also, they are involved with a lot of politics, they’re trying to get evicted people back onto their land and she’s very involved with that.”
When asked about a report that she was once banned from the old cinema on Station Road in Ennis, she acknowledged its truth.
“Ha, ha, I was (barred), years ago, when I was a teenager a few of us got barred, but they recognised me so any time I tried to get back in for years, I wasn’t allowed in! I missed out on a lot of cinema when I was a teenager, so I ended up getting involved in theatre really because I didn’t get to go to the movies for a couple of years.”
In the Ennis of her youth, there were relatively few opportunities for an aspiring thespian. She moved to Galway in her late teens to get involved in the drama scene there. “When I was younger, I was in Ennis Musical Society. I did all the school plays in the Coláiste, all that kind of thing and some drama groups. But there wasn’t a youth theatre for us in Ennis at the time, I don’t know if there is now. There wasn’t an arts centre, Glór wasn’t there or anything. I remember Macnas coming from Galway and doing plays and I was fascinated by them. I moved to Galway when I was 17, really because of that. I went to art college but it was more to do with the theatre scene that I moved to Galway, I wanted to become involved so I joined Galway Youth Theatre. A few years later, I moved to Dublin and just went and trained at the Gaiety. Galway was really my stepping stone and it was because of Macnas really.”
She has been based in London for the last five years and has recently worked on the TV series Peaky Blinders, which stars Cillian Murphy, while she also spent a day working on the new series of Love Hate.
By Owen Ryan