Beauty would be held in much higher regard sir, if it could be eaten.

Black 47 ( 2018 )

★★★   |   Oct. 4, 2018

The Great Famine, "An Górta Mor", which took place from 1845 to 1849, was a pivotal moment in Irish History, decimating the population to a level from which it has never recovered. The loss of life was rivalled only by the Napoleonic Wars in 19th Century Europe, and those who didn't die of starvation and disease emigrated to England or America, giving rise to the vast Irish diaspora visible today. The cause of the famine was potato blight, a crop the peasants had become so dependent on, but it was exacerbated by the English overlords, who provided precious little aid and, in fact, continued to ship food out of Ireland even when the inhabitants were at their most desperate. Despite the gravity of this period, or maybe because of it, it has attracted little interest from the big screen, and in fact, Black 47, named after the deadliest year of the famine, lays claim to be the first film set during the era.

Australian actor James Frecheville is charged with mastering not just the Irish accent, but also the Irish language. He stars as Michael Feeney, a Connaught Ranger and war hero who has returned to Ireland after fighting for the British army abroad. He, like the others before him who've taken the King's shilling, has become an outcast, and has deserted in order to return to his country before war can take everything from him. He finds a desolate and barren land far removed from the one he left. His mother has died of starvation after refusing to pay the price of soup, a renunciation of her faith, while his brother has been hung for the crime of stealing to feed his family. Feeney embarks on a crusade of vengeance, striking down those he sees as responsible for the suffering of his people and his family. Hannah (Weaving) is an Englishman who has fought alongside Feeney in the war, and is given the option of pursuing him or facing the death penalty for crimes he has committed in his role as an investigator for the Royal Irish Constabulary. He has far more in common with Feeney than the masters he serves, and grapples with his conscience as he edges closer and closer to his target.

The story and characters in Black 47 will be familiar to audiences. It's a classic Western revenge tale, where a wronged anti-hero exacts a calculated and chilling revenge on his transgressors. Almost as important to the tale is the character of the hunter, Hannah, who bridges the gap between Feeney and the enemies of the tale, the authorities and landowners. The movie has its flaws, the characters, including Feeney himself, lack depth, and it feels at times like a more powerful tale of suffering and injustice lurks beneath the surface, concealed by Feeney's rampage. However, what sets Black 47 apart is its unique setting in the famine-striken west of Ireland, which is beautifully shot, with Daly maintaining a sombre mood throughout, capturing the horror of the era. This makes it a unique film, giving a voice to a poignant and oft-forgotten historical period, and a more than worthy watch.

Directed by
Lance Daly
Starring
Stephen Rea
Hugo Weaving
James Frecheville
Jim Broadbent
Freddie Fox
Runtime: 100 minutes
Black 47 (2018) on IMDb