THE CLOSING film of this year's Galway Film Fleadh was the much anticipated Black 47, the Great Famine-era western, with a big budget, an international cast, and it was filmed in our own back yard here in the west of Ireland.
Set in Connemara 1847, Black 47 follows the story of a deserter Connaught Ranger, Martin Feeney, returning home. He arrives back to a dead mother, a brother and sister-in-law executed by hanging, and his remaining family living in squalor. When his wife and children are killed by a local baliff, he sets out for revenge on the landlord and local constabulary. Sent to stop him are the young and inexperienced Pope, and another former Ranger named Hannah, who has a personal history with Freeney.
The cast has an Antipodean flavour, with the two leads played by Australian's James Frencheville (Feeney ) and Hugo Weaving (Hannah ). Supporting roles are filled by Barry Keoghan and Stephen Rea. All deliver great performances, but the film's villain, the incredibly infuriating, posh, obnoxious, English soldier Pope, played by Freddie Fox, is the one who steals the show.
Frencheville [pictured below] is a strong protagonist. He speaks pretty good Irish for an Australian. That said, he does speak less and less as the movie goes on, almost as if he’s turning into a force of nature.
Black 47 deals with a a period of Irish history we almost never see on the big screen and while it is quite grim, it is crazy that one of the defining period in our nation's history is so underrepresented in popular culture. One of its more powerful scenes is set in a soup tent. Catholics are being offered soup to denounce their religion and take an English name. It is an old story and “to take the soup” has become a bit of a jokey comment, but here it is quite striking, the cruelty of the process.
When approaching such an epic moment in history like the Irish Famine, where do you even start? The director, Lance Daly, uses a revenge western to take us on a journey through the time period. We see all the awful images we are taught in school - the soup kitchens, then grain being sent back to England, the landlords scoffing at poverty taxes, and the struggle of the Irish peasants. We see all this while watching a really fun action movie. How impressive is that?