“Black ’47”: Film Review

An action-packed and hugely satisfying revenge Western sets into stark context Ireland’s relationship with Britain.

Feeney comes home from the Afghan Wars at the height of the Great Famine of 1847, a deserter from a British Army he had so far served dutifully. His plan is to rescue his family and take them to America. But he finds devastation and betrayal.

The beautiful wintry landscapes of West Ireland are scarred. Abandoned villages, burnt down houses, blight. There is no refuge from starvation or the elements. He witnesses successive waves of cruelty, executed on the orders of a callous landlord. The horror and injustice set him on a new path. The war veteran becomes a rogue warrior in search of justice and retribution. He is soon pursued by a former army comrade with divided loyalties.  James Frecheville as avenger and Hugo Weaving as ambivalent pursuer are powerful figures in a richly cast film which gains in narrative complexity as they are joined by a cast of distinctive characters.

The enjoyment of “Black ’47” comes as much from the inexorable narrative drive as from the ensemble playing. Stephen Rea is a mysterious guide whose truth-telling is laced with menace. Barry Keoghan plays to perfection a minor role which yet presents a lynchpin moment in the film – a radical change in perspective when he sheds his illusions and understands the causes of the harrowing reality before him.  And the usually avuncular Jim Broadbent is here magnificently cruel, immoral, dehumanising.  His words give a loud and clear political context to a powerful and uncompromising story. There is an echo here of the counter-intuitive way in which Sergio Leone cast the usually gentle and soft-spoken Henry Fonda as the horrifyingly cruel Frank in “Once Upon a Time in the West”.

Now streaming on Netflix UK or buy the DVD.

Director Lance Daly
Screenplay Lance Daly, P.J. Dillon, Eugene O’Brien, Pierce Ryan.
Cinematography Declan Quinn
Cast James Frecheville, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Freddie Fox, Barry Keoghan and Jim Broadbent

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