After a world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival and an Irish premiere at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival, Black 47 has received mixed reviews. The plot is a standard revenge story, one you’ve seen many times before. It stars James Frecheville (Animal Kingdom, The First Time) as Feeney, an Irish Ranger who has been fighting abroad for the British Army but becomes a deserter and returns home. When he discovers what has happened to his family, Feeney swears vengeance and deserts. That is, until his old British Army comrade Hannah, played by Hugo Weaving (Hacksaw Ridge, The Matrix) is dispatched to put an end to Feeney’s uprising and hunt him down.
What makes Black 47 unique is its setting; the Irish Famine. An Gorta Mór (1845 and 1849) remains the blackest period in Irish history with 1847 (Black 47) being the year with the highest proportion of deaths during the four years of mass starvation under British rule. Yet, it has featured barely a handful of times in cinema. Think about how often you’ve seen a movie about Slavery in America, the Holocaust or even the abuses of religious orders.
For an event that killed one million Irish people, shockingly it has taken 170 years for a major movie about it. Director Lance Daly takes the responsibility of bringing this period in history to the big screen very seriously; “Given the singular importance of the Great Famine in Irish history, and that it has never been seen on our cinema screens before, our cast and crew felt a huge responsibility to make a film that was not only historically accurate and emotionally true, but also undeniably entertaining, so that the story could reach as many people as possible.”, Daly told RTÉ.
The cast is the films weapon, they are strong and engaging and Hugo Weaving is particularly noteworthy. The gravitas he brings to his scenes acts as the lynchpin of the emotional highpoints of the plot. Mercifully, we are spared the dire Irish accents we are used to from Hollywood, as the cast list is full of the Irish; Stephen Rea (Michael Collins, The Crying Game), Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk, The Killing of a Sacred Deer), Moe Dunford (Vikings, Patrick’s Day) and Sarah Greene (Noble, Penny Dreadful), and Oscar winner Jim Broadbent (Brooklyn, Iris). If you’re a fan of Irish cinema or want a new twist on a tried and familiar movie format, you’ll find something in Black 47, and hopefully it will get us all talking about this important period in our history once again.
Black 47 opened in cinemas on Friday, September 7th 2018