Black 47: An Irish Western Falls Short

James Frecheville in Black 47. Courtesy of TIFF.

Black 47 offers a Western vibe as the film takes us back to 1847 when the country of Ireland was two years into their battle with the Great Famine.

Feeney (James Frecheville) returns to his home in Ireland after deciding to leave the British Army.  Nothing prepares him for the horrible conditions he’s about to face.  Despite having seen the conditions that war provides, the famine provides for some sights he wasn’t ready for.  Feeney discovers that his mom was forced into starvation and dies before he returned home.  His brother was hanged.  With these two estranged loved ones dead, Feeney sets his sights on a path of vengeance.

Feeney decides to take that vengeance out on the government.  It’s because of their failures that things were bad in Ireland.  Crops were dying so people ended up dying.  Nobody can possibly survive in those conditions.

Before Feeney can make much damage, British soldier Hannah (Hugo Weaving) is sent to track him and stop him from firing up an Irish revolution.  Hannah brings with him both Pope (Freddie Fox) and Hobson (Barry Keoghan).  Translator Conneely (Stephen Rea) comes along for the ride.  Their chief goal is to prevent Feeney from starting this Irish revolution and possibly even prevent a death sentence.  Together, all of them track down Lord Kilmichael (Jim Broadbent), who is preparing to troll the hungry Irish masses by sending his recent harvest to the English.

There’s a dark and gritty aesthetic to Black 47.  Whether it’s in the film’s cinematography or even the makeup, there are dark themes all over the place.  When one thinks about it, this makes perfect sense because what the famine led to in Ireland.  Yet the film feels short of achieving its goal.

The Great Famine would see Ireland lose 25% of their population.  One can say that the country never truly survived in the same way.  Among all of Europe, Ireland has a population less than what they had before the famine.  Whether it was the one million who died or the one million who left for North America, things were brutal for Ireland.  This was a defining period for Ireland much in the same way that the American Revolution and Civil War were for the United States.  It’s because of this that they deserve a strong and compelling story to be told on the big screen.  Unfortunately for Ireland, Black 47 doesn’t feel like it’s the story they deserve.

Director Lance Daly surprisingly brings any type of film representing this awful period in Irish history to the big screen to the first time.  Why hasn’t such a story been told in this way before?  One big challenge seems to be the lack of visual media especially along the western coast of Ireland.

Black 47 somehow falls short of one’s cinematic expectations in providing justice to a story that demands it.

DIRECTOR:  Lance Daly
SCREENWRITERS:  PJ Dillon, Pierce Ryan, Eugene O’Brien, Lance Daly
CAST:  Hugo Weaving, James Frecheville, Stephen Rea, Freddie Fox, Barry Keoghan, Moe Dunford, with Sarah Greene, and Jim Broadbent

IFC Films will release Black 47 on October 12, 2018.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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