James Frecheville, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Jim Broadbent
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…deals strongly in familiar genre tropes, Irish history, and blistering social comment.
Though birthed in America, the western genre has been a seasoned traveller over the years, galloping its way into territory as distant as Italy (courtesy of Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci and co), Denmark (Kristian Levring’s The Salvation), New Zealand (Geoff Murphy’s Utu certainly flirts with the genre) and Australia (The Proposition still stands as a great western to rival much US output). With the absolutely cracking Black ’47, the western has now made its way to Ireland, and the results are stunning, as the film deals strongly in familiar genre tropes, Irish history, and blistering social comment.
When young Irish soldier Feeney (Australian actor, James Frecheville, best known for Animal Kingdom, gives an impressively intense and highly physical performance here) returns home from serving the crown in Afghanistan, he finds his home destroyed, with the nation in the violent grip of The Great Famine, which rained down starvation, death, disease and corruption between 1945 and 1949. With his family torn apart by unfeeling landlords and oppressive English forces, Feeney – an experienced fighter now equipped with exotically effective Afghan weapons – sets out for revenge. On his trail are his former military colleague, Hannah (the ever reliable Hugo Weaving is in fine form), and pompous English officer, Pope (Freddie Fox).
While on the surface functioning as a straight-ahead western actioner (Frecheville’s hard-charging killing machine Feeney is almost cut from the same cloth from which Rambo was constructed), Black ’47 really burns brightly in its fierce, uncompromising depiction of Ireland suffering under English rule. It’s exciting, entertaining, and utterly gripping, but Black ’47 is also a defiant, heartfelt piece of protest cinema.