Black '47

 

starstarhalf

 


A deeply serious slice of 19th century history approached as an entertainment.

   
Black '47

James Frecheville

  

It would be understandable to assume that we have here a socially conscious and deeply serious historical drama. The very title of Black ’47 is a reference to the year 1847 and the setting is Ireland that was then suffering dreadfully from a catastrophic and lasting famine and also from the ruthlessness of its British rulers. Indeed, at the end of Lance Daly’s film we learn that it is dedicated to those who died in that period and to the many driven to emigrate who never returned.

 

However, what is actually on the screen is an action movie that relegates Ireland’s tragedy to the background so that it can function as a tale of revenge that frequently puts one in mind of a spaghetti western. Although a melodramatic pre-credit sequence introduces Hugo Weaving as Hannah, a war veteran seen strangling the man he is interrogating, this is first and foremost the story of Feeney played by James Frecheville. It is Feeney who, having left Ireland to fight abroad in the service of the British army, returns home to find his family victims both of the famine and of the authorities, some members already dead and others to die shortly after his arrival. He himself is arrested for intervening but, like any decent movie hero, he breaks free against the odds and sets out to kill one by one those he holds responsible for the fate of his family including the British lord of the local manor (Jim Broadbent).

 

In years gone by Feeney would have been the kind of figure played by Clint Eastwood and by comparison Frecheville lacks authority, so it is as well that Hannah too proves to be a central character here. He is sent out to kill Feeney, an offer that he cannot refuse since it will save him from being executed for the killing seen at the start of the film. However, he had served with Feeney in Afghanistan when the latter had saved his life so the way is open for some tension in the later stages of the movie when we wonder if Hannah will reject carrying out his mission.

 

Throughout Weaving is a strong presence and there are subsidiary roles for good actors (Freddie Fox and Barry Keoghan are soldiers who accompany Hannah and Stephen Rea is a local who helps as a tracker). Indeed, as an action adventure, a genre piece offering its own kind of entertainment, Black ’47 is by no means incompetent. But, when I read the written dedication at the film’s close, it only served to confirm the major reservation that I had felt all along. What Ireland suffered in the second half of the 1840s is indeed worthy of remembrance, nor should we forget the appalling contribution to it by the British that may well have been as bad as portrayed here. But, in view of that, making a film on the subject as done here - one in which the narrative deals in movie conventions found in entertainments instead of providing a serious, persuasive historical reconstruction of the Great Hunger as it was known - verges on the insulting.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Hugo Weaving, James Frecheville, Stephen Rea, Freddie Fox, Barry Keoghan, Moe Dunford, Sarah Greene, Jim Broadbent, Dermot Crowley, Antonia Campbell-Hughes.

 

Dir Lance Daly, Pro Macdara Kelleher, Tim O'Hair, Arcady Golubovich and Jonathan Loughran, Screenplay PJ Dillon and Pierce Ryan, Ph Declan Quinn, Pro Des Waldemar Kalinowski, Ed John Walters and Julian Ulrichs, Music Brian Byrne, Costumes Magdalena Labuz.

  
Fastnet Films/Primemeridian/Samsa Film/UMedia/The Sea Around Us-Altitude Entertainment.
100 mins. Ireland/Luxembourg/USA. 2017. Rel: 28 September 2018. Cert. 15.