With a tipple of whiskey upon entry, the audience is transported to the desolate highlands of Ireland during the potato famine of the 1800s. Countless pieces capturing the romanticised landscapes have taken inspiration from this country but seldom do they pay homage to the bleak period of history that befell the Celtic people of the Irish moors. Black ’47 is as educational as it is cinematically haunting.
A Robin Hood of the era, deserter Michael Feeney (James Frecheville) returns to the Irish mountains after serving for the British Army in Afghanistan. He discovers his home, pillaged, and those left of his family, starving. So, his quest for justice to send a message to the crown under whose rule opportunistic Irish constabulary and English militia have decimated the land and brutalised civilians, including Feeney’s mother, blood brother and his wife and children.
In the opening scene, director Lance Daly masterfully creates a situation pivotal to the film’s plot. In a fit of rage, British Army veteran Hannah (Hugo Weaving)––working as an investigator for the Irish Constabulary––strangles a member of the Young Irelander resistance, placing him under the Crown’s thumb. For Hannah, a tortured soul with nothing left to lose, imprisonment doesn’t hold much gravity. But manipulated by the very army he served for alongside Feeney, he finds himself on a mission in pursuit of the notorious ranger.
Daly melds genres––a blend of Western and Thriller––the tale of vengeance and justice tests loyalty in the face of war. Feeney, a man of few words, captures this sentiment well in a conversation with Hannah about the British Crown.
“When I kill a man, they call it murder, but when they do it, they call it war.”
The simplicity of Feeney’s words, as well as the many cold-blooded battles, speak volumes of the British Empire at the time and the lengths it would go to––instating its authority and power.
The audience begins to understand The Great Famine as more than just a population of starving mouths in Ireland in a quote from the mouth of British Lord Kilmichael (Jim Broadbent):
“There are some who look forward to the day there are no Celtic men in Ireland as they do to the day there will be no red Indians in Manhattan.”
This tragic event can only be described as ethnic cleansing of the Celtic. Forced to renounce their Catholic faith so they can eat, stripped of their homes and left to starve and freeze through the harsh Irish winter, the British Army was on a conquest to displace these people and their culture––the spoiled crops gave them the opportunity to do so.
This cinematic tribute explores loyalty, patriotism, family values, war and justice. Black ’47 broke box office records in Ireland after it premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in March last year.
Black ’47 features in this year’s Revelation Film Festival running ’til July 17!