BLACK ’47 concludes “in memory of all those who died, and those who went away, never to return.” From Ireland in 2018, comes a sort of fictionalized mini-Braveheart, with its commoner hero avenging gross injustice visited on his prostrate country by the detested English overlords during the worst year of The Great Hunger/Irish Potato Famine.
“Take the prettiest English maiden, put her for one season in an Irish cabin. Feed her water and potato, dress her in rags and make her wade though bogs and sleep with the family pig. Take from her any hope that the future will be different and when she crawls out of her hovel, stretching out her scrawny hand for a penny, how much will she look like that pretty English maiden?”
Returning from serving abroad as a soldier for the British Empire, ‘Martin Feeney’ (James Frecheville) finds Ireland devastated by famine, his family destroyed, and Anglo-Irish landlords evicting the destitute, starving populace from their meager homes. Enraged, his war-honed prowess goes to work to exact some justice. Former comrade ‘Hannah’ (Hugo Weaving) is recruited to help an arrogant British officer (Freddie Fox) track Feeney down.
Lance Daly directed, and co-wrote the script with PJ Dillon, Pierce Ryan and Eugene O’Brien. 1847 saw the worst of the 7-year calamity of blight, plague and hunger that decimated Ireland’s population by millions from death and emigration. Shot in fitting wintry conditions, Daly had cinematographer Delcan Quinn use a washed-out color scheme to accentuate the numbing bleakness of the natural elements—climate, ecology and disease—adding an extra chill to the grotesque heartlessness of the authorities response. Though the tragedy was epic in scale, the movie keeps it up close and human, and the few CGI background renderings seem intended to evoke a faded storybook texture (either that or they’re just a wee shoddy–?) Beyond the basic redress-via-revenge setup that gives the story forward momentum and cathartic payback, intimate detailing tellingly conveys desperate straits. The choice of extras and bit players with their costuming and makeup and the language communication issue are very well handled. Frecheville’s intense glare, wounded, baleful and focused, puts over Feeney’s rage and rationale, and Weaving ably sketches a portrait of conflicted allegiance.
100 minutes, with Stephen Rea, Jim Broadbent (always spot on), Barry Keoghan, Moe Dunford, Sarah Greene and Ella Grace Lee. Global box office tallied around $2,073,000. *
* “If I kill a man they call it murder. If they do it, they call it war.” Understandably, most of the ticketed response came in Ireland. In the States, where nearly 10% of the population has Irish heritage, it only touched 247th place. A tragic, unforgivable lack of history knowledge in the USA doubtless a factor, and of course some of us fondly recall a smug, clueless representative of our own aristocracy assuring the startled world that a potato didn’t need sour cream because it was already garnished with an ‘e’. While informed Americans (and all ye who enjoy smirking at our self-inflicted woes) may justifiably decry our longstanding habit of dicking around with other people’s turf, it’s worth recalling that we learned the ultimately self-defeating Empire game from some real pros.