STARRING: James Frecheville, Hugo Weaving, Freddie Fox, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Rea, Moe Dunford, Barry Keoghan, Sarah Greene, Colm Seoighe, Ronan O’Connor, Ciaran Grace, Dermot Crowley, Antonia Campbell-Hughes and Aidan McArdle
Set in Ireland during the Great Famine, the drama follows an Irish Ranger who has been fighting for the British Army abroad, as he abandons his post to reunite with his family. Despite experiencing the horrors of war, he is shocked by the famine’s destruction of his homeland and the brutalisation of his people and his family.
An Irishman that deserts the British Army returns to his home to find that his family have died during the plight of the Great Famine and once he discovers the reasons for their death, goes on a one-man mission to seek revenge on those responsible. Meanwhile a former British Army veteran set to be given a death sentence for murdering a prisoner is given an ultimatum, die or help hunt down the Irishman that he served with during the Afghan War.
Black ’47 is set during the Great Famine of Ireland in 1847. Martin Feeney, a former Connaught Ranger, returns to the west of Ireland after abandoning his post to learn that his family has passed away and sees how people are living now during the worst year of the Famine. Witnessing the brutality of ones he loves at the hands of the Royal Irish Constabulary, Feeney decides to exact revenge on those that are responsible for his families death, leading to British officer and a British Army veteran on the hunt for him, with the latter having a personal connection with Feeney. Directed by Lance Daly, Black ’47 is a western-revenge tale told with the Great Famine being the backdrop setting.
Daly does a fine job directing this period piece, with the landscape captured well by cinematographer Declan Quinn, with the setting given a dull, greyish filter to capture the grim plight that people had to deal with during the Great Famine. The film is also complimented well by Brian Byrne’s score. Australian actor James Frecheville is really good here in the lead role of Feeney, with his almost silently violent demeanour travelling from area to area in order to commit vengeance on those he deems responsible for his family’s demise, from a judge (in one of the films most memorable scenes for me personally) to a Protestant preacher setting up a tent for ‘soupers’, meaning offering soup for those that were starving in exchange that they converted to their beliefs. Hugo Weaving also gives a good performance as Hannah, a British Army vet turned police officer that is compelled to aid a British officer in the hunt for Feeney or face a death sentence for strangling a prisoner in his custody. He feels conflicted about their mission due to the fact that not only did he and Feeney served together, but he also saved his life during the Afghan War. You feel his conflict as they get closer to their target. Another fine performance in the film for me came from Stephen Rea as Conneely, a local brought onto the mission to serve as an Irish translator for Pope and Hannah, acting as the social conscience of the film, particularly in the scene he shares with Jim Broadbent’s Lord Kilmichael.
As much as I found it rare yet enjoyable to see the Irish language subtitled in a feature film, the way it’s actually subtitled I found oddly distracting at first, but it’s a minor nitpick compared to the fact that the film in general left me feeling a little bit cold. It tries to blend in the western-revenge aspect whilst trying to have a social commentary about certain aspects of why the Great Famine was such a travesty (the way family’s were excited from their homes, harvest being shipped abroad rather than to the locals etc.), but for me it doesn’t really have that lasting impact once the end credits roll in. The films small budget has its benefits but also feels like it hinders the wide-shots of the landscape, particularly in one shot with the train going through a sea of burnt down bungalows.
I’ve seen some people already titling it as the ‘Irish Breaveheart’, but Black ’47 as ‘a realistic John Wick set during the Great Famine’ would be a better fit. The film serves fine enough as a western-revenge tale, but serving as a tale about the Great Famine in Ireland, it only scratches the service. The two lead performances from Frecheville and Weaving are enough to keep you invested throughout. 5/10