Magazine article Screen International

'Black 47': Berlin Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Black 47': Berlin Review

Article excerpt

Ireland’s devastating potato famine is the backdrop for Lance Daly’s revenge western

James Frecheville

Dir. Lance Daly. Ireland, 2018. 96mins

‘Black 47’ is a familiar term in Ireland for the worst year of the potato famine, in which a million people died and more than two million were displaced. Lance Daly’s film, the first to deal with the traumatising events of the mid-1800s, will also play best at home, where the context is widely understood and appreciated and still haunts the country today. Using the ‘Great Hunger’ as a backdrop for a revenge western is an interesting way to exorcise old ghosts, but the end result drains pathos from the tragedy while muting The Proposition-style genre elements.

Shot on location in Connemara, Black 47 is intermittently effective on a visual level

Thanks to its subject matter, Daly’s ambitious, rough-hewn film may secure US interest, even though it’s couched partially in Gaelic as Feeney (Animal Kingdom’s James Frecheville), who has taken ‘the king’s shilling’ to fight in Afghanistan for the British Army, returns to Connemara to find his mother has died of starvation, his brother has been hanged, and his starving sister-in-law (Sarah Greene) and children are holding on to life by a thread.

When that thread finally snaps, it’s no surprise that the silent-but-deadly Feeney is provoked into a campaign of bloody retribution which will surge through the local constabulary and clergy and all the way to the local British landlord Lord Kilmichael (Jim Broadbent, in full aristo-sneer mode).

Meanwhile, Hugo Weaving (looking uncannily like Sam Neill) plays Hannah, a drunken British inspector and former colleague of Feeney’s in Kabul who is tasked with tracking him down. …

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