My, the seats are uncomfortable in the Phoenix. If you’re tall/weigh over 11 stone/have a bad back/long or twitchy legs, forget it. It’s not that you don’t have enough leg room – you have bags! There is nothing claustrophobic about the cinema screen at The Phoenix, East Finchley. There’s a wonderful airy arched ceiling, and the seats follow a spacious rippling pattern through the room for better viewing over people’s heads. But personally, having a long bony back, I was in a lot of pain, and if it wasn’t for the fact that the cinema was almost empty and we had rows of space to stretch out, I would have felt like a human in an elf’s cinema.
This aside, the small cinema in the middle of East Finchley high street has a wonderful feeling of history and magic that perhaps only the oldest cinema in the UK could (true story). The fact that there is only one screen at The Phoenix, the entrance to which is crammed up a twisting staircase on a balcony overlooking the ‘ticket office’ (a small bar with two tills on it), is somehow exciting. As we gripped our miniature card tickets waiting to be admitted to the screening of Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall, there was a queue of people lining the balcony in front of us – something, I realised, I hadn’t witnessed in years. The small space, so neatly arranged, so bright and colourful, feels awe-inspiring: like what you’re about to see is touched with exclusivity. In an age where everything is supersized and super-accessible, it’s exciting to be somewhere simply small.
Ken Loach told Shortlist magazine this month that his purpose in filmmaking is to ‘Try to tell the truth, make it entertaining and just capture the humanity of the situation and the people.’ It’s not about politics, at least not really, at its core; far more important is the representation of all of those human beings busy living life on our wet little island (or the island next door, in the case of Jimmy’s Hall). What do this particular group of people talk about all day? What do they care about? All the questions that lead into the realm of politics and society, blown up into glorious focus. The spotlight is where it should be – on the heart.
Ken’s empathetic light glows from everything he produces like a beacon of truth, and is impossible to mistake.
I really enjoyed the simplicity of Jimmy’s Hall… the intimacy between characters, the lack of ego and self-interest in favour of the greater good of the whole community, the loyalty not only to each other but to their hometown, threatened by the overbearing-at-best Catholic church and by extension the civil war-winning pro-Anglo government. Jimmy’s Hall is a classic Ken story: a man whose ‘radical’ ideas (he organizes music and dance lessons influenced by American culture in a hall) are angrily squashed by the authorities. The fear of the uncontrollable, of our own human nature, and where it could take us.
It was just pleasant to be watching something utterly uncontrived. It didn’t try to make you cry, or demand you feel the anxious burn of political disarray surrounding you. There were excellent dramatic moments, however, such as the scene where Jimmy (Barry Ward) tells it how it is to Father Sheridan (Jim Norton: the ultimate repressive priest) through the protection and privilege of the confessional box, pretending to be a repenting sinner but in no way holding back. He looks like a cool vigilante, shrouded in the darkness of the box, his deep voice spit-firing accusations as Father Sheridan flounders under his conviction on the other side of the lattice. There is a magical scene consisting of Jimmy twirling Oonagh (Simone Kirby), his childhood sweetheart, around the Hall, where the interior is so dark and smoky-coloured it resembles moonlight, as she wears the beautiful silk dress he bought back for her from New York. And nothing can beat, for comic value, Jimmy’s mother aiding Jimmy’s escape from the police by locking them in her cottage as he legs it out the window, nonchalantly dropping the key into her ‘drawers’. Not a shadow of emotion crosses her face – brilliant.
All in all, by no means Ken’s deepest delve into Ireland’s bloody history, and lacking that biting rawness one might expect from him.. but still painting a sweet and honest Irish landscape, original at every scriptive turn and packed with new young acting talent. IGUANA morphing into a baby KOMODO DRAGON.
Best features of The Phoenix:
-The artwork lining the walls and steps up to the screen, some student, some original screen-prints of one-off film posters.
-The lovely original decor in the screens … ornate lamps, plush screen curtains, high arched ceiling, all in a warm red and gold.
-The upstairs cafe: delicious snacks, cosy space, comfy seating, and cool artwork surrounding.
Best bits of Jimmy’s Hall:
-Jimmy’s mum’s poker face as she slips the front door key down her bra.The police wouldn’t dare tango with her underwear!
-The violent lashing by a father on his teenage daughter’s back when she attends dance lessons at Jimmy’s Hall is a scene hard to watch, but compelling.
-The dramatic and sometimes heart wrenching conversations between Jimmy and Father Sheridan behold the key to the root of Jimmy’s Hall.