Review: Black ’47

A bleak and boring tale of Irish famine

The 1840s potato famine in Ireland is not the most obvious choice for the setting of a violent cat and mouse chase. And yet director Lance Daly has gone for it, resulting in a rather drab and boring film that fails to maintain intrigue or interest.

Black ’47 traces an Irish ranger, Feeney, who deserts the British Army and returns home to find half his family dead before witnessing the deaths of the rest of hem. Understandably, the desire for retribution against the landowners who have crippled his family, and many others across Ireland, burns brightly within Feeney. Determined for justice, Feeney begins to track down all the men culpable. While his military brawl and ability to fight is expertly portrayed through realistic fight scenes, shot in long takes, the film fails to fully develop Feeney as an empathetic, distraught human. His perpetual lack of expression and limited dialogue make him a hard figure to rally behind.

This is only made worse by the same phenomenon happening with Hannah, the ranger entrusted with finding Feeney. Hannah is played by an underutilised Hugo Weaving who, like James Frecheville as Feeney, mainly grumbles and delivers dialogue that often fails to hold focus. However, the main problem that arises from this is, is that both of these leads are interesting but also have a violent side which often seems unforgivable. Neither are heroes, nor even anti-heroes. They are merely products of the time, a bleak and dishevelled Ireland.

In many ways, the impoverished people in Ireland are the main focus of Black ’47. Every twist and turn in the plot has the same backdrop; locals in ragged clothing, blackened faces and pale complexions. The admirable emphasis upon Gaelic music and language throughout the film alleviates how the people are a main issue. Their lives are bleak and seemingly hopeless.

Due to this, Black ’47 is more of a historical piece, striving to show Irish strife at the hands of the British. The film isn’t stupid enough to blame Britain for the weather but unashamedly accuses Britain of their horrible attitudes towards the peasants. Grain hoarding and evictions are everywhere and are mainly as a result of British pompousness. While this depiction is fascinating, it sacrifices any sort of character development as a result.

Jim Broadbent’s portrayal of a villainous landowner is the only character that you feel any strong connection with, albeit a negative one. It seems, following King of Thieves, Broadbent is on somewhat of a renaissance, playing horrible figures brilliantly and very much against his usual casting type. However, beyond that, Black ’47 fails to provide any fascinating characters which seems a massive oversight given that a cat and mouse tale is perfectly prepped for an in-depth look at morality. It is touched on, but never fully explored in the film and that is a great shame.

Overall, Black ’47 is underwhelming at best, with not even brutal killings or realistic action scenes serving to increase the intensity. Yet, one has to appreciate that creating action sequences with muskets makes action inherently slower and less dramatic. But the slow dialogue and uninteresting characters are unforgivable. It might just be that the best thing to come out of the film is Hugo Weaving’s impressive beard.

-Stefan Frost 

Black ’47 is out in cinemas now

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