- 05 Sep 18
Irish famine gets the revenge Western treatment - with mixed results.
Martin Feeney has come home, but it’s not much of a homecoming. Having deserted the British Army while fighting in Afghanistan, Feeney (James Frecheville) arrives back in Connemara and discovers the once idyllic landscape ravaged and littered with corpses, the small cottages now gutted and torched, his family gone.
The Famine has decimated the place – but Feeney notices that some people have managed not only to survive, but to profit. Collaborators who betrayed their families and neighbours. Young men who helped the British Army evict mothers and children. Landlords who exploited the vulnerable and poor. Devastated and enraged, Feeney embarks on a quest for bloody retribution against those responsible for his family’s destruction – but he himself is the target of another man’s mission. Feeney’s former comrade Hannah (Hugo Weaving) has been charged with tracking him down and punishing him for his desertion, and so Feeney becomes both hunter and hunted on a journey that highlights the murderous greed that contributed to this genocide.
It is genuinely shocking that Black 47 is the first major film set during the Famine, rife as the era is with historical weight, political heft and horrifying tragedy. Director Lance Daly cannot, of course, be held accountable for other filmmakers’ reticence on the subject. But to these eyes, there is something odd and uncomfortable about watching this mouldbreaking film – only to find a machismo-fuelled revenge Western unfurling before you.
There are some intriguing elements. Declan Quinn’s desaturated cinematography is effectively bleak, and the elegiac use of the Irish language is moving. Vicious fights between Feeney and British officers are well choreographed – though as Feeney remains stoic and impenetrable, the bloody escalations lose emotional resonance and steam. Daly made a bold choice by approaching Black 47 as a genre film. It just mightn’t be the choice to do full justice to the theme.