Black 47 is not about The Famine. Well it is of course about The Famine, but instead of being about the injustice or the tragedy, it is revenge thriller following the clichés of the genre. In some ways it has as much in common with Get Carter, Old Boy, or Unforgiven as it does with Angela’s Ashes. It is a wild Atlantic western.
Spoiler free synopsis
It stars James Frecheville (Animal Kingdom) as Feeney, an Irish Ranger who is fighting for the crown in Afghanistan and India. On hearing of the calamity commonly referred to as ‘The Famine’ befalling his native land, he deserts and returns to see what has become of his family.
He finds a people abandoned by the very powers that he has been fighting for, left vulnerable to cruel bailiffs, indifferent landlords and traitorous profiteers. You can see the similarities to First Blood’s protagonist John Rambo. A warrior who has been fighting the wrong wars while his own people needed help.
Echoes of other movies may well occur to you too as you watch. This is not a criticism, at least not by me. You will not learn anything new about the famine. Some critics found it one-sided, portraying the authorities as indifferent or cruel. It is and they were. Criticisms of the lack of portrayal of women are much fairer.
Others found the movie derivative. However, I found it exciting to see such a movie, one that follows the tropes of the genre, using the open sore of the Great Hunger to evoke pain and anger. It provokes us, so when Feeney wreaks his revenge, we are sympathetic but also complicit. I found myself punching the air in one scene where the Irish language in invoked to dispense justice. I felt a little sheepish at my Pavlovian reaction.
Yet at the end there is certainly a suggestion of the futility of vengeance-that Ireland must choose between a future of hope or endless retribution.
Does it go all ‘Fields of Athenry‘ ?It is well cast and directed. Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent and Stephen Rea bring the gravitas. Freddie Fox plays the arrogant British officer in pursuit’ espousing the sort of opinions his real-life cousin Laurence would on British TV a few months later. But it is James Frecheville who catches the eye. A native Australian, he learned Irish phonetically to take the role. It can’t have been an easy gig (he described it as a very cold shoot) As the movie progresses, he seems to become more and more at one with the land. A silent personification of the countryside, Ireland not as Dark Rosaleen but as the dark avenger. A Celtic Golem righting wrongs.
(There is a Glenn golem kill joke that there that I’m not going to touch.)
Black 47 will not be everyone’s cup of tea (and there is some quite poor CGI for a few backgrounds) but it is promising to see Irish movies like this being made, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what Lance Daly does next.
You might like this if you enjoyed:
Dead Mans Shoes, The Crow