As an American, we don’t really get taught in school about Ireland’s Potato Famine. Sure, there may have been a short lesson in World History that covered the basics, but nothing in depth. I do know that because of a blight, Ireland’s potato crop failed in successive years, resulting in one million deaths and over a million more emigrating out of the country, dropping Ireland’s population from eight million to six million, all within the span of only four years. But until Lance Daly’s Black 47 came to my attention, I had all but forgotten about those short lessons I learned.
Though perhaps what’s more shocking is that there hasn’t ever been a film about this time period of Irish history, and especially not one featuring a cast that includes Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rhea, Barry Keoghan, and newcomer James Frecheville. I wonder why? Perhaps Stephen Rhea said it best in this interview from Irish Times:
“Some American producer said the script is very heavy – couldn’t we lighten it? And my agent at the time said: ‘How are we going to lighten it? Feed them?’”
There is no doubt that this is heavy material. While we may not have famine on this scale anymore, we do still see modern examples of what hunger can do to a nation. Don’t believe me? Let me introduce you to the concept of Food Riots. But there have been attempts to dramatize this time period before, namely Hugh Travers cancelled Channel 4 show Hungry which was to be a sitcom set during the famine. Naturally, this caused nationwide outrage with historian Tim Pat Coogan stating, “Murder, genocide, people dying, retching, with their faces green from eating weeds, their bowels hanging out of them — no passage of time will make that funny.” until Channel 4 decided to forego the entire project.
But that doesn’t mean a story about the famine can’t be told. Black ‘47 follows an Irish Ranger, Feeney (James Frecheville), who has left his home country to fight for the British when, in 1847, he receives word of the widespread famine back home in Ireland. Upon his return he discovers his mother has died from starvation, his brother has been hung by British soldiers, and the countryside he knew is in apocalyptic shambles of dead farm land and dying communities. And he rests the blame for this on the feet of the British authorities he worked for who have not provided adequate assistance to his home. Because of this he takes up arms to exact his revenge on those who perpetuated this deteriorating way of life, but not before the British dispatch their own soldier (Hugo Weaving) to hunt down Feeney.
But a film that chronicles one of the darkest hours of Irish history could use some levity, if anything just to get the bleak message across in a more palatable way. Clearly comedy has been deemed too insensitive, horror seems obvious but may pale in comparison to the historical horrors of the period, and frankly, I don’t imagine many people were falling in and out of love in serendipitous ways as they were starving to death. So what does that leave us with? Levity in the form of a quasi-western revenge thriller featuring bloody, brutal, white knuckled action scenes.
And in this exclusive clip from Black ‘47, that’s exactly what you get.
What stands out to me most with this scene is how raw the fight feels. Typically in modern fight scenes the choreography is evident, because that is our focal point. We want to see the close calls, the death defying stunts, and the gloss that comes from modern action. But Black ‘47 is clearly eschewing all of those trappings for visceral realism. Because of the claustrophobic room, you feel each hit as our lead escapes his confinement, using his environment to his advantage.
Black ‘47, directed by Lance Daly, and featuring James Frecheville, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rhea, Freddie Fox, Barry Keoghan, Moe Dunford, Sarah Greene, and Jim Broadbent opens in New York City on September 28th and LA on October 5th from IFC Films!