Black 47: A Movie Review

Black 47: A Movie Review

By Patrick Conlin, Jr.

The Great Hunger, An Gorta Mor.  Those who are not familiar with the transcendental event, may consult the seminal account, a book entitled “An Gorta Mor”, what else?  There are scads more.  

I like “Paddy’s Lament,” a bit shorter and more victim oriented.  The grossly uninformed use the term, “Potato Famine.”  We all know there can be no famine in a region or country that exports shiploads of food.  

More like genocide, I say, but we’ll leave that discussion for another time.  The reason most of us who are third generation Irish Americans are here in the U.S., is because of this tragic, criminal five-year event.

The new movie, entitled “Black 47,” brings the physical reality into our laps, but in an entertaining and informative way.  A 2018 production jointly funded by Bord Scannan and Film Fund Luxembourg, the film has been running on Showtime on Demand (free if you have Showtime) for a few months.

Having done a bit of reading on the period, I am amazed at what I feel is the stark realistic 
settings.  The scenery is harshly beautiful, filmed in Connemara as it was.  The cast is first rate. 

Stephen Rea, from “Michael Collins” and “The Crying Game,” plays a wily local, seemingly a “Castle Irishman,” with his own way of pulling the beards of the “lords” without their realizing it.

Barry Keoghan, who had a prominent role in “Dunkirk,” plays a young Irishman who is a soldier of the Crown, who is molded and shocked by what he sees.  The star is James Frecheville, who plays another Irishman, Martin O’Feeney, who took the Kings shilling, joined the British army a few years before the worst of the hunger, and went off to fight in English foreign wars, in India (the part that is now Afghanistan).  

Heroic but disillusioned, he deserts and returns to his home in Connemara to find starvation, fever, evictions, mass death and emigration, and his own family destroyed.  His piercing eyes look ominously on the scene.

Also starring is Hugo Weaving, who I recognized but was not sure why.  My wife Janet informed me that he was in things like “Lord of the Rings” and maybe even Harry Potter.  How could I have missed him?  

He is also facially captivating, with minimal dialogue, as an Orangeman and R.I.C. detective who had also fought in Afghanistan in the same Connaught Rangers, a regiment of the British army wholly recruited in Ireland.  Good performances are given by actors who play the landlord, a British army captain, the bloody R.I.C. (Royal Irish Constabulary) sergeant, and the sister-in-law of O’Feeney.

Much of the dialogue is in the Irish language, with subtitles, and other parts in English. It becomes a point of intense contention, with English characters scorning ‘that aboriginal rambling.’  As a third-generation Irish person, I had few actual first-hand connections to the old country, except a grandmother who constantly called me “PO-rik” and “Porika.” In my
40s, I was thrilled to learn that she was calling me “Patrick” in Irish.

One scene opens in a small, packed courtroom presided over by a bewigged English judge, who announces to a ragged young man, “POrik O’Reilly, you are charged with stealing a sheep from the estate of Lord Kilmichel.  How do you plead?”  The first two times I watched, I missed the first word, POrik.  

I was smiling.  How many Patricks have been called POrik over the centuries?  We think some of my people came from the Galway-Mayo area, hard-hit Great Hunger places.  I finally felt a direct connection to Ireland, not as much as those of you who are lucky enough to actually have direct current contact with relatives in Ireland, but a real contact nevertheless.
I recommend that you do not miss it.  After six viewings, I bought a copy on Amazon for $12.00.

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