Black 47

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Variety, a leader among Hollywood publications, has given Black 47, the first ever movie set in Famine times in Ireland, a rave review.

The movie has opened to critical acclaim at the Berlin Film Festival and is expected on general release shortly.

The movie is set in 1847 - the worst year of the Famine - when the potatoes were black with blight, the smell of disease hung in the air and death was everywhere. Feeney, a young Irishman, returns after serving abroad with the British Army in Afghanistan. He’s been to war, he’s seen death but nothing could prepare him for what awaits him home in Ireland.

His mother is found wilting away from hunger until death finally claims her. His brother has been hanged by the authorities. Everywhere around him there is decay and destruction.

He deserts the British Army and plots a revolution in revenge. But the Army isn’t finished with him just yet: desertion is a crime and an ageing British soldier is sent out to find him and bring him to heel.

Filmed in Wicklow and Connemara, the movie was inspired by a previous Irish language short film called “An Ranger” about a soldier in the Connaught Rangers who returns home during the Great Hunger and decides to seek revenge for what he sees.

The film is getting rave early reviews. Variety critic Jessica Kiang writes that Irish director Lance Daly “brings menace and power to a lean revenge Western that does overdue cinematic justice to famine-blighted Connemara.”

She notes there has been very little moviemaking or indeed, literature devoted to the Famine era.

“Compared to other eras in Ireland’s history, there is no great wealth of contemporary Famine literature, few photographs document its excesses and even fewer films.”

As a result, she says: “This may well be the first encounter international audiences will have had with the Great Hunger, and for them Daly delivers a resonant, beautifully performed Irish Western that benefits from the exotic sound of Irish Gaelic spoken as a living language, and the brackish majesty of cinematographer Declan Quinn’s wide vistas.”

Kiang writes, “The appreciation of beauty, and the creation of art to celebrate it, is easier achieved when there’s something in your belly, which accounts for why so little of it remains to us from this time and place.”

“For today’s Irish audiences, or anyone acquainted with the full freight of the word “Sassenach” as it’s used here, there’s more to Black 47: There’s the satisfaction of seeing an ancient, rankling injustice addressed, be it only through fiction.

“Daly’s characterful, slow-burn tale is a well-crafted experiment in grafting genre onto disregarded history. And it’s needed, because mass starvation has never really been the stuff of epic cinema, especially when there were no “Braveheart”-style battles for freedom here, just a million souls slowly wasting, wastefully away.”

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