Film Review: Black 47

Rambo sa Gaeltacht

More often than not, it is a massive help to the enjoyment of the movie where you don’t really know too much about it, nor have endured trailers created by people who truly hate movies, showing every single thing possible about the movie, short of showing the movie itself. Quite often, said exploiters deliberately create a tone that isn’t even actually the voice of the movie, just to get mobile users into cinemas to annoy folk who actually LOVE movies.

I hadn’t seen the trailer for Lance Daley’s outstanding and brutal new movie ‘Black ‘47’ (2018), I didn’t need to. Being from the country that is the backdrop to the story, the Irish Famine was never far from any part of our education throughout our entire lives, it held/holds a mythical status in our psyche, almost spoken about in hushed referent tones, a sombre pause, doff of the cap, that inverably ends with a murmur of ‘Fuckin Brits’ who as far as we were concerned deliberately murdered over one million of our country folk, with at least another million being forced to emigrate.

Of course that simplicity of view can’t be correct, we could all be standing around at any event, effectively watching the same thing, and report back broad sweeping differences of opion on what happened. Having said that, looking at the current UK Tory Governments treatment of anyone who isn’t rich, you can absolutely see how millions were ‘allowed’ to die (including today), contempt, indifferrence, greed and ineptitude definetely aren’t recent inventions.

Having for the first time just watched the trailer, and as mentioned with numerous reviews, DON’T WATCH THE BLOODY TRAILER!!!!!!! The sheer delight I experienced whilst watching the movie go from what I thought it was going to be, ie a dour, serious, heavy work, to a full on HOLY BABY JAYSUS CHRIST! LET’S SLAUGHTER ALL THE OCCUPYING FORCES, created such a joyous clatter of glee, like a two year old discovering pots and pans are in reality a drum kit. I would however recommend not letting kids see ‘Black ‘47’.

It’s a seriously shrewd move on the part of Daley and co, where the just revenge quest of the central character Fenney (James Frecheville) actually acts as a sort of catharsis for the viewer (especially if they have Irish roots) where swift and extremely brutal justice is served upon at bare minimum callous occupiers, or more likely fascist Imperialists (also reminiscent of current political rulers).

It’s 1847, and after a number of years of potato blight, the cheap and zero choice staple food of an entire nation, Fenney has returned home after years of fighting as an Irish Ranger for the occupying forces. That in itself opens up huge potential discussion in regards working for the enemy and ‘Taking the Kings coin’, which is regarded as treason to many. Not to justify it, but with such abject poverty around, is it wise to die for principals, or can you values be bought with gold?

Having served his time, murdering foreign nations for three square meals a day, the scenes that greet his return are at odds with the accumilative wealth he knows have been stolen on his campagains. The elite are dining with gold and finery, Fenney’s people are trying to survive eating weeds, and living in tatched houes, if indeed they are allowed to live in houses at all. The local landlords and rent collectors are prone to ‘tumbling’ houses, evicting the inhabitants for spurious reasons, somewhat similar to current day illegally occupied Palestine, with Israeli troops bulldozing Palestinian homes for Israeli developers. The destitute are now living/dying in mud huts or hedgerows scattered across the landscape, Ireland is an open graveyard.

Fenney discovers what has happened to his family, and is understandably not at all pleased about it. A bit like Liam Nesson in Taken (2008), he has a set of skills, ‘Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you’, but said with furrowed eyebrows, a kukri sword and arcs of blood, rather than actually saying the words.

And like a Celtic Terminator he’s off on the path of righeousness blood letting, literally painting the town red.

I wasn’t expecting any of this at all, and I absolutely BLOODY LOVED IT! The landscape is as beautifully bleak as John Hillcoat’s post-apocalyptic The Road (2009), the visciously cruel leaders killing of their populace is as topical today as then, but firmly achoring it in Irish culture by having large swathes of it spoken in Gaelic (generally only spoken in Irish speaking Gaeltacht regions today), traditional Irish music, and spoken word really brings home an intensity that will far outstrip any potential meagre budget.

There’s elements of Spaghetti Western, mixed with Rambo, Taken, Bourne yet also through a historical prism that adds another potency. The movie doesn’t pretend that it is 100% historically accurate, though it’s very clear a lot of reseach has been done, it’s primary objective is entertainment after all. Having said that, it will definitely encourage many folk to look into the history of those years, as the moments of exposition serve as pointers, not fully fleshed dissertations.

The credibility of the feature is only enchanced with the performances of the likes of Frecheville’s onimounous pressence (an Australian who looks like he’s about to run out in Avia Stadium to win the Six Nations for Ireland), Hugo Weaving as Hannah, a brutal English Policeman, Stephen Rae as local man Conneely, Jim Broadbent as Lord Kilmichael, the inhumane local land master and Barry Keoghan as a young British soldier is excellent in anything he’s in. There’s also the brilliant presence of Freddie Fox as Pope, who has been tasked with hunting Fenney down. Fox looks like a young David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976), a true alien in foreign lands, where the disparity of his regal uniform and the abject poverty surrounding him are to anyone with an ounce of humaity, offensive.

For a backdrop of suffering, there’s vast amounts to celebrate with ‘Black ‘47’, brilliantly executed storytelling (well except for the subtitles that jump around the screen like they were made by somebody drunk on Poitin), and a few not so great CGI renderings, these are inconsequential to the overall impact.

Absolutely see this on the big screen if possible, and I can’t wait to watch it again on Blu-ray (hoepfully there’s tons of extras), the commencement of Gaelic Westerns that are hopefully going to happen, and whatever Daley and his highly talented crew come up with next.

9/10 ‘Black ‘47’ is in cinemas now.