While Irish cinema has come on in leaps and bounds in the last number of years, it’s now reaching a stage where more ambitious projects are getting made. Whether it’s due to people clamouring for something different paired with advances in technology, Irish films are starting to make their mark on the world stage more and more. “Black ‘47” is one such film.
Set against the darkest days of the famine in 1847, the film isn’t just about the famine, but the famine serves as a backdrop to the story of an Irish man returning from having served in the British army. Not only is he coming home to the stigma attached to fighting for the British, but his home and family have been decimated by the famine, as well as being tormented by British landlords and their subordinates. The man (“Feeney”) decides that, with nothing to lose, to embark on a mission of bloody, muddy revenge across the west of Ireland.
“Black ‘47” isn’t what I was expecting at all. I was expecting a historical drama focused on the struggles of the time, but what I got was a riveting thriller that, while informing the viewer about the darkest time in Irish history, celebrates our culture by featuring a mostly traditional Irish score and a lot of the dialogue spoken in Irish. The depiction of the West of Ireland at the time really hits home the sense of utter despair that was surely present at the time, and doesn’t shy away from showing the hardship that people suffered.
While it may look on the surface like a historic period drama, the film more closely shares its DNA with classic Westerns of the 60’s and 70’s such as “High Plains Drifter”. In our hero, we have a loner who doesn’t speak much, but has a penchant for extreme violence to satisfy his vengeful mission. On his trail, we have a team of people looking to bring him to justice. What Feeney has over his pursuers is the fact that he was trained by them, and he isn’t afraid to use this knowledge against them, and as well as this he has an intimate knowledge of his surroundings that they do not have.
On the acting front, the film is led brilliantly by Hugo Weaving with support from the likes of Jim Broadbent and Stephen Rea, but it’s James Frencheville as the force of nature in the form of Feeney that draws you in. The film ratchets up the tension and has some really well shot action for the type of film that it is.
The film works on multiple levels; as a snapshot of Irish life in 1847, as a revenge thriller, and as a Western. Everyone associated with this should be proud of making a film as good as you’d see from a major Hollywood studio, while handling a delicate subject with the utmost of respect. I can’t recommend this film highly enough.
These are the very complimentary words of our Kevin Dillon @kevinwritestuff
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